The purpose of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [“IDEA”] is to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepares them for employment and independent living.
Districts are obligated to evaluate students it suspect have disabilities and are in need of special education. Evaluations must be conducted in all areas of suspected disabilities. In addition to providing information as to whether a student is eligible for services under the IDEA an evaluation must also provide information about the nature of the services the student requires. If, upon evaluation, it is determined that a child is eligible for special education, the District, in partnership with the student’s parents, must develop an Individualized Education Program [“IEP”]. “Each IEP must include an assessment of the child’s current educational performance, must articulate educational goals, and must specify the nature of the special services that the school will provide.” [Schaffer v. Weast, 546 U.S. 49, 53 (2005)].
The IDEA defines special education as “specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parent or guardians, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.” The statutory term “unique needs” has been construed broadly to include “academic, social, health, emotional, communicative, physical and vocational needs.” [Seattle School District No. 1 v. B.S., 82 F.3d 1493, 1500 (9th Cir. 1996]. Thus, IEP goals must address the child’s needs that (1) result from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum and (2) meet each of the child’s other educational needs which result from the child’s disability.
Once an IEP is developed, placement is determined. Each district must ensure that a continuum of alternative placements is available to meet the needs of children with disabilities including instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions. If a placement in a public or private residential program is necessary to provide special education and related services to a child with a disability, the program, including non-medical care and room and board, must be at no cost to the parents of the child.
Placement decisions must be made by a group of persons, including the parents, and other persons knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data, and the placement options. The placement must include educational instruction specially designed to meet the unique needs of the child, with the necessary supportive services as are necessary to permit the child to benefit from the instruction. [County of San Diego v. California Special Education Hearing Office, 93 F.3d 1458, 1467-68 (9th Cir. 1996)]. At least annually, more often if necessary, the IEP and placement decision must be reviewed.
When parents and districts disagree about any aspect of a free and appropriate public education under the IDEA, the law provides for a dispute resolution process which includes the availability of mediation, a complaint resolution process, and due process hearings.