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"The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities (US Department of Education)." To fully understand where we are, it is important to understand where we have been. Before IDEA, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) was enacted in 1975. Before the EAHCA was enacted, there was very little assistance for children with disabilities. In fact, only 1 out of every 5 children with disabilities were educated in the public schools (National Education Association). Some states actually had laws excluding children with some types of disabilities from attending public schools. Many children with disabilities lived in state institutions. Some who attended school, were placed into segregated facilities where they received little or not instruction and it was more of a daycare atmosphere (National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research).
Currently, three out of every four children with disabilities spend part or all of their school day in a general education classroom (National Education Association). This is a huge improvement from pre 1975 when only one out of every five students was enrolled in public education. This means that almost all classrooms across the country have a student or students with disabilities in their classroom (US Department of Education). This affords the opportunity for the children with disabilities to be integrated with "typical" children and to learn from their "typically" developing peers instead of being in a classroom segregated from the "typical" student population. Having this type of integration also gives the "typical" children very valuable life lessons and quite often they learn more from the children with disabilities than the other way around.
The National Education Association has made a statement that they "support a free, appropriate education for all students with disabilities in a least restrictive environment, which is determined by maximum teacher and parent/guardian involvement that has been set forth in the IDEA mandate." That sounds like a very simple statement, but it is very profound. It is amazing to think that just a few short 35 years or so ago, that was not the general feeling. Children with disabilities were being warehoused in institutions or placed in separate classrooms and the general feeling was to just push that part of the population to the side. It was also a widespread feeling that integration of students with disabilities hindered the learning of their typically developing peers. This is still a feeling some have to this day, but the overall feeling of integration has changed (National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research).
Now that we have discussed some of the history before IDEA, we can look at the mandates under IDEA. One of the most important mandates is the development of the individualized education plan(IEP) for every student who is enrolled in the special education program (An Equal Opportunity University). An IEP meeting is an annual meeting to discuss the students strengths and weaknesses as well as goals for the upcoming school year. These meetings can include a number of people from teachers, special educators, doctors, psychologists, therapists, parents and the student. The team of people meets come up with clear, concise, attainable goals for the student as well as tracks whether goals are being met.
IDEA also mandates physical education for students with disabilities. This is a separate mandate from classroom instruction. This is significant in the fact that it separates physical education as a service that must be provided to all students who qualify for special education services. It also highlights the importance of physical education for all students. (Education Encyclopedia). It is quite amazing that they have made a special point to separate physical education thereby showing the importance of it for students with disabilities while in "typical" public education it seems the physical education programs are being cut or scaled down.
The last mandate we will discuss is the mandate that qualified personnel deliver special education instruction. In this context, "qualified" meant that a person has "met State educational agency approved or recognized certification, licensing, registration, or other comparable requirements which apply to the area in which he or she is providing special education or related services (Education Encyclopedia)." The level of qualification does still depend on the position of the educator. Often, paraprofessionals are still not adequately educated however, they are typically under the direct supervision of a teacher that is qualified and they get some on the job training.
The future for children with disabilities looks promising. We have come a long way in the past 35 years. "The nation has moved from paying little or no attention to the special needs of individuals with disabilities, to merely accommodating these individuals' basic needs, and eventually to providing programs and services for all children with disabilities and their families (National Education Association)." It is astonishing to hear that some people's thoughts have not progressed and they still seem to have the mind set of 35 years ago. Luckily people with that mind set are becoming less and we are seeing more people with the desire to educate all children, regardless or race, religion or ability.
An Equal Opportunity University. (April 19, 2006). Assistive Technology Legal Mandates. Retrieved January 10, 2010, from http://natri.uky.edu/resources/fundamentals/laws.html.
Education Encyclopedia. (Last edited February 9, 2009). Adapted Physical Education - The IDEA Mandates,Trends and Issues, Training. Retrieved January 10, 2010, from http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1733/Adapted-Physical- Education.html
National Education Association. (could not find a date). Strengthen and Fully Fund the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Retrieved January 10, 2010 from http://www.nea.org/home/29923.htm.
National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.(March, 2008). Historical Context of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Retrieved January 10, 2010 from http://www.adata.org/whatsada-history.aspx.
US Department of Education. (June 2009). IDEA Part B Regulations Overview. Retrieved January 10, 2010 from http://idea.ed.gov/explore/view/p/%2Croot%2Cdynamic %2CPresentation%2C13%2C.