New to special education? Here is what you need to know.

The special education system has lots of new terms and acronyms. Read on for an overview of what you need to know. 


1. What is IDEA?

IDEA refers to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This is a federal law that sets requirements for the education of all students with disabilities.

It explains the eligibility requirements for receiving special education and related services and applies to all public schools across the United States. Each state also has its own special education law. The state’s law can provide more services or support than the federal law, but it can’t provide any less. 

2. Is the school required to teach my child?

Yes! If your child is in a public school and satisfies the criteria for receiving special education services, the school is required to do to whatever it can to provide the education and related services your child needs in order to make academic progress.

Academic progress includes both academic and behavioral supports. If your child exhibits severe or aggressive behaviors, it’s possible the school might feel overwhelmed or under-equipped. If they call you continuously to pick your child up from school, it is important for you to know that this shouldn’t happen. The school has a responsibility to provide an education for your child and to create a program that supports his or her needs, including behavioral needs. Work with the school to create a plan that will allow your child to access education in a way that is supports your child’s academic, social, and emotional needs. 

3. What does FAPE mean?

FAPE stands Free Appropriate Public Education. This is one of the most important parts of the IDEA. It means that your child will receive an education appropriate to them, including necessary supports and services, at no cost to you from age 3-21. In some states, your child can stay in school until age 22. 

4. What’s an LRE?

LRE stands for least restrictive environment. This is another key piece of the IDEA.It means that to the maximum extent appropriate, your child should receive their education in a classroom alongside peers who do not have disabilities. You might also hear the term inclusion in reference to LRE. Inclusion refers to including all children – with and without disabilities – in the same classroom. The default placement for your child should be the classroom with all the other students, though there are always exceptions. 

5. What if I don’t speak English?

The IDEA requires that you provide informed consent at various times during the evaluation and placement process, as well as at yearly and triennial reviews of your child’s supports and services. In order to get your informed consent, the school must make sure you understand what you are agreeing to in your native language. 

6. Remember you are not alone.

There are over 6 million students with disabilities across the United States. Other families in your community have walked in your shoes, and more will follow. Seek advice and support from those families. Over time you will be able to serve as a resources to others. You can also reach out to advocates and lawyers to help you along the way. 34 CFR 300.101, 300.114, 300.9, www.ed.gov