Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

How the IDEA Serves Nonpublic School Students with Special Needs

A federal education law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) regulates the education of children with special needs. It was first passed by Congress in 1975 as the Eduction for all Handicapped Children law. In 1990 it was updated and renamed the IDEA. It was reauthorized by Congress in 2004. For several years already, it has been on a list of laws in need of updating by Congress.

Until then, the 2004 law is still in effect. The US Department of Education (DOE) developed regulations that expand and clarify the language contained in the actual federal statute. This guidance is also still in effect until the law is reauthorized by Congress.

The IDEA is unique because it is both a civil rights act and a federal education program. Public school districts have an obligation under the law to locate students in need of special education services and offer them a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). With this “right” comes an individual entitlement for services.

However, when parents choose to enroll their child in a private school, they have declined FAPE and their child’s entitlement to services. The law requires that the public school district provide a group of parentally placed private school children with special education and related services. In practice, this means public school districts provide limited services to children enrolled in private schools.

The US DOE has a Frequently Asked Questions document that addresses services for children in private schools: US DOE FAQ.

And, you can read more about the IDEA and private school children in this toolkit from the Council for American Private Education (CAPE), of which WCRIS is the Wisconsin state chapter.

Another useful resource from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is a Bulletin that addresses common issues around public school district’s obligations to serve private school children with disabilities. It was written in 2006 and updated in 2010.