ARTICLE: Who is Eligible Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act? Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 2006 Jefferson Law Book Company, Division of Anderson Publishing Co.
Journal of Law & Education

ARTICLE: Who is Eligible Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act?

July, 2006

35 J.L. & Educ. 291


ROBERT A. GARDA, JR. * and Senator Robert Stafford, co-sponsor of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act. **



The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act [hereinafter "IDEA"] requires that states provide all "children with disabilities" a free appropriate public education. 1 An eligible "child with a disability" is defined as a child
(i) with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance . . ., orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities; and

(ii) who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services. 2

These apparently simple provisions are in fact among the most complex requirements of IDEA. 3

Courts, hearing officers, and eligibility teams often misapply these intricate eligibility requirements, leading to both over-identification and under-identification of IDEA eligible children. 4 The over-identification of students for special education, particularly minority students, was a primary focus in the most recent re-authorization of IDEA in 2004. 5 The concern is warranted because misplacement into special education stigmatizes students, denies them a high quality education, limits their future opportunities, and takes valuable resources away from truly disabled students. 6 On the other hand, under-identification of students for special education, usually of emotionally disturbed children, leaves them unserved and often unable to participate effectively in society. 7

The first step to resolving these eligibility problems is for authorities to properly interpret IDEA's difficult eligibility requirements. This Article explains how courts and hearing officers apply, and misapply, these standards. It also provides authorities a clear ...
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