• Jeff N. Eckert

What's the Big IDEA?

Updated: Aug 4, 2021

Welcome to Exceptional Student Education (ESE) in Florida.

For parents first entering the world of special education, it can be a disorienting experience. There are tons of new terms and acronyms like ESE, LRE, FAPE, and ESY to name just a few thrown at you, sometimes with little explanation or context given. Even experienced parents of a child with a disability can find navigating the school system to be challenging. For parents of a child with a disability, life can be overwhelming and dealing with the school system can add even more stress. My goal is to help parents understand the common special education terms and concepts they will encounter, often in the form of odd acronyms or in the midst of an IEP (see, another acronym) meeting. However, before tackling some of the acronyms and terms that are unique to exceptional student education (ESE), I think it's a good idea to offer you a big picture overview of special education. So, without further ado, I welcome you to SEN Law and give you your first important acronym to learn...IDEA.

The IDEA is a Landmark Federal Law for Students with Disabilities and Their Families.

IDEA stands for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This federal statute was a landmark law that evolved from the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (also known as Public Law 94-142) enacted in 1975. For the first time, Congress recognized that the integration of students with disabilities into the school system was, and still is, an essential public policy concern that was deserving of legal protections. The IDEA also conferred certain enforceable rights on parents that empowers them to advocate for their child within the school system. Prior to the IDEA, there was little recourse or resources for parents whose child was deemed unable to participate in the classroom. As a result, many families were forced to keep their child with a disability at home or place them into institutions for their educational needs. Like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), this federal education law improved the lives of people with disabilities and of their loved ones. More than forty years later, the IDEA has been amended a number of times but remains, at its core, an anti-discrimination statute.

The IDEA is Still an Important and Relevant Federal Law Today.

Notably, the IDEA requires school districts to identify and evaluate all children with disabilities from birth through age 21, with an emphasis on early intervention. The IDEA's central purpose is “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living." The IDEA recognizes the educational process is an ongoing one and consists of teaching students skills across multiple domains. Also, the IDEA embraces a team-based approach that revolves around the creation and monitoring of a student's Individual Education Plan (IEP). Ideally, parents, educators, therapists, and other professionals come together to ensure that the IEP provides a meaningful benefit and "that special education can become a service...rather than a place where such children are sent."

*In the next installment, I will discuss Individual Education Plans (IEP) and how they are implemented in Florida. Stay tuned...

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