The IDEA was enacted 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 employment and independent living. To achieve this purpose, the federal government provides funds to the states and local agencies to implement IDEA, on the condition that such states and local agencies comply with its requirements, both substantive and procedural. The Supreme Court, however, has held that under IDEA, Congress intended to provide a satisfactory level of educational opportunity, not the best education that money could buy.
The primary substantive guarantee of IDEA is the provision of a free appropriate, (“meaningful”) public education, or FAPE, to children with disabilities. States and local agencies provide FAPE by designing and implementing IEPs for disabled children. The IDEA also contains several procedural guarantees. If the parents of a disabled child disagree with the IEP proposed by the state or local authority, they may convene an impartial due process hearing to resolve their complaints. If any of the parties to the due process hearing are aggrieved by the result of that hearing, the IDEA authorizes the institution of a civil action in federal court to challenge the findings and decision made in the hearing.
In addition to IDEA’s requirement that the state provide each student with some educational benefit, the student must be placed in the least restrictive environment to achieve the FAPE. The disabled child is to participate in the same activities as non-disabled children to the maximum extent appropriate.
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