Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) | TCTA
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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

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Federal law governing the education of students with disabilities requires that children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.


The law provides that a child shall not be determined to be a child with a disability if the determinant factor is:

(A) lack of appropriate instruction in reading, including in the essential components of reading instruction (as defined in section 1208(3) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965);

(B) lack of instruction in math; or

(C) limited English proficiency.

Specific learning disability

A student cannot be labeled with a SLD if the child’s low achievement is due to lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math. The U.S. Department of Education stated in comments accompanying the federal regulations that “whether a child has received ‘appropriate instruction’ is appropriately left to state and local officials to determine.”

Additionally, the reauthorized law and regulations indicate that the traditional “discrepancy” model for determining whether a child has a SLD, which relied on a severe discrepancy between IQ and achievement, is no longer in favor. The regulations provide that states must adopt criteria for determining whether a child has a SLD. The criteria cannot require schools to use the discrepancy model, but instead must permit the use of a process based on the child’s response to intervention.

Accordingly, states can permit the use of discrepancy models, but it is more likely states will use other models such as the research-based “response to intervention.”

Help for struggling learners

The reauthorized IDEA allows schools to use up to 15% of the federal special education funds they receive to develop and implement coordinated, early intervention services for students in kindergarten through grade 12 (with a particular emphasis on students in kindergarten through grade 3) who have not been identified as needing special education or related services, but who need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in a general education environment.


Special education teachers

Federal law requires special education teachers to hold at least a bachelor’s degree, and to have obtained full certification by completing traditional or alternate preparation OR by passing the state special education licensing examination.

Federal law also provides that special education teachers are considered to have met this requirement if they are participating in an alternative route to certification program in which they:

  • receive high-quality professional development that is sustained, intensive, and classroom focused;
  • participate in intensive supervision that consists of structured guidance and regular ongoing support or teacher mentoring;
  • assume teacher functions only for a specified period of time not to exceed three years; and
  • demonstrate satisfactory progress toward full certification.


Federal law states that paraprofessionals who are “appropriately trained and supervised” can “assist” in providing special education and related services. State law clarifies that aides can only be used to support special education instruction. Special education instruction can be provided only by properly certified professionals, even in disciplinary alternative education programs. State rules require aides who work with special education students to be certified.

Referral for special education services

State rules clarify that if a student continues to experience difficulty in the general classroom after the provision of intervention, district personnel must refer the student for evaluation for special services. TEA has further clarified that response to intervention is not required prior to any special education referrals, that a referral can be made at any time during the RTI process (a child need not advance through each tier of an RTI system before a special education referral is made), and that timely referral for evaluation under IDEA is made if, after an appropriate amount of time, the student is not making adequate progress. Generally the district must conduct an assessment of the referred student within 45 school days of receipt of written consent for the evaluation from the parent/guardian. Certain exceptions apply when parent consent is given close to the end of the school year.

The individualized education program team must then meet to develop an IEP for the child within 30 days of the evaluation (or determination that the child needs special education services). The IEP must be implemented “as soon as possible” after the IEP team meeting, meaning without delay.

Frequently asked questions

Who must attend IEP team meetings?

Federal law requires that at least one regular education teacher be a member of the IEP team (or ARD committee) if the student is or may be placed in a regular education setting. However, the law provides that members of the IEP team/ARD committee are not required to attend meetings if the parent of the student and the school district agree that the attendance of such member is not necessary because the member’s area of the curriculum or related services is not being modified or discussed in the meeting. If the member’s area of the curriculum is being discussed, the member can be excused by submitting written input on the development of the IEP prior to the meeting.

The law also allows the parent and the school district to agree to make changes to an IEP after the annual IEP meeting without convening another meeting. This can be done by making the changes in writing, allowing the IEP team to meet via conference call or video, and requiring school districts to consolidate IEP team meetings as much as possible.

Which regular education teacher must be on the IEP team (ARD committee)?

TCTA-initiated legislation provides that the regular education teacher who serves as a member of a student’s ARD committee must, to the extent practicable, be a regular education teacher responsible for implementing a portion of the student’s IEP.

What must the IEP contain?

The IEP must contain a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child. These are tools that will help school personnel work more effectively with the child and could include special training for the child’s teacher. The IEP must include enough information to enable teachers to understand what is required to effectively implement it. TCTA-initiated legislation passed in 2013 specifies that a student’s behavioral intervention plan is part of the IEP. Recently passed legislation requires that if a behavior improvement plan or behavioral intervention plan is included as part of a student’s IEP, the IEP committee must review the plan at least annually to address changes in the student’s circumstances that might affect behavior, such as a different placement, an increase in disciplinary actions, a pattern of unexcused absences or an unauthorized unsupervised departure from an education setting. The review should also address the safety of the student or others.

TEA model IEP form

TEA developed a model IEP form that includes only information required by state or federal law for school districts to use, if desired. Find the form on TEA’s website here.

Who gets the IEP?

Federal regulations require that the child’s IEP must be accessible to each regular education teacher and anyone else responsible for its implementation as soon as possible after it is finalized and before beginning work with the child. (Texas rules require that each teacher of the child must have access to relevant sections of the IEP.)

Each teacher who will provide services to the child must be informed of his/her specific responsibilities related to implementing the child’s IEP and the specific accommodations, modifications and supports that must be provided for the child in accordance with the IEP. Schools and teachers have continuing obligations to make good faith efforts to assist the child in achieving the IEP goals and objectives.

Discipline under IDEA

IDEA resources

Find more information on IDEA online: