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IDEA & Education

What is IDEA?

The rights of a child with disabilities to a free and appropriate education are protected by several federal laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA). Under IDEA, your child is guaranteed a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment along with all appropriate related services required to enable your child to benefit from his or her education.

Such an environment for your child may be a regular education classroom, with or without special accommodations (arrangements to help your child learn and succeed). Or it may be a self-contained classroom where children with emotional and/or behavioral problems are grouped. Such classrooms are staffed with trained special education teachers and have a smaller student/teacher ratio than standard classrooms. In some cases, the least restrictive environment may be a therapeutic day school, or homeschooling by a special education teacher provided and paid for by the school system.

Is My Child Eligible?

To qualify for special education services under IDEA, your child must be tested and found eligible. The law requires that the testing be done by a qualified professional paid for by the school district. The school district will provide a professional to do the testing (usually the school psychologist). The purpose of testing is to uncover difficulties that are a result of the disability (and additional disabilities that may be found during the testing), and to determine how important these effects are.

There is a series of steps that the public school district must go through before placing your child. Because IDEA provides money to schools to educate children with disabilities, the term "disability" must be defined.

"Disabled" children are those:

with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including hard of hearing or deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments, deaf-blind, serious emotional impairments (hereafter referred to as "emotional disturbance"), orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, specific learning disabilities; and multiple handicaps and
who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.

The above 13 classifications entitle a child to full services and accommodations throughout the school day, and the two most likely applied to a bipolar child are "other health impaired" and "emotionally disturbed".

Emotionally disturbed is defined by the law as:

An inability to learn which cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory or other health factors; or
An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers or teachers; or
Inappropriate types of behaviors or feelings under normal circumstances; or
A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression;
A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems; or

If your child's impairment is not severe enough to qualify under IDEA, he or she will probably still be eligible to receive services under Section 504.

Section 504:

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is another law that protects your child's rights to an appropriate education. This civil rights law prohibits discrimination against anyone with a disability. Section 504 of the law provides qualified individuals with disabilities the right to participate in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance. Those "programs and activities" include public schools and after-school programs, church-run schools, and schools operated by non-profit organizations.

Your child may be eligible for protection under Section 504. To be eligible, your child must meet the definition of a person with a disability. This definition is "any person who...

has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities,
has a record of such an impairment, or
is regarded as having such an impairment."

If your child is evaluated and is determined to be qualified under Section 504, he or she may be eligible to receive modifications and accommodations in a regular classroom (since no federal funds are provided to supplement special education).

If your child already has a 504 plan and the school is not in compliance with it, contact your state civil rights office, and make a written request for an IEP.

All information contained in this web site is strictly for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for consultation with your medical doctor or psychiatrist.
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This Site Updated 04/09/11