Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

What is IDEA?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that requires states to provide a "free, appropriate public education" to children with disabilities so they can be educated to the greatest extent possible along with all other children. Qualifying children are entitled to special education and related services at no cost to their parents/guardians.

Who is covered?

To receive services under IDEA, a child with with a disability must show that he or she needs special education and related services in order to benefit from education. An evaluation of the child must show that, because of the child's disability, the child's educational performance is harmed. There are three situations in which a child with diabetes might be covered under IDEA:

  1. The child has another disability which impacts his or her ability to learn, but diabetes itself does not cause an impact in learning. For example, a child with Down syndrome might have an impact in learning.
  2. Both diabetes and another disability combined impact the child's ability to learn. For example, it might be determined that a child's ability to learn is impacted by both autism and diabetes.
  3. The child's diabetes, by itself, causes an impact on learning. This is categorized as an "other health impairment" under the IDEA.

While it is most common for a child with diabetes to qualify for IDEA because of having another disability in addition to diabetes, it is also possible that diabetes itself can cause an impact in learning. For example, it is often difficult to learn when blood sugar levels are either too high or too low. If a child with diabetes is having difficulty managing his or her blood sugar level, this may hurt how well the child does in school. Academic progress might also suffer if a child with diabetes misses a significant amount of classroom instruction each day in order to attend to diabetes care tasks.

What help does a child receive under IDEA?

Special Education

Special education means adapting what is taught and how it is taught in order to address the child's unique needs. The child must have access to the same general curriculum (or coursework) so that the child can meet the same educational standards (tests and other measurements used to pass children from grade to grade) that apply to all children in that school district. For example, a child with diabetes might need a tutor or a classroom aide to help the child catch up with missed schoolwork.

Related Services

Related services include such things as school health services. For example, a child with diabetes requires that there be trained staff available at all times who are knowledgeable about diabetes and the child's specific plan for diabetes care. Such staff must know how to recognize and treat high and low blood sugar levels. Younger children may require assistance in blood glucose checking and administering insulin.

Least Restrictive Environment

IDEA requires that children with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE). This means that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities are educated with children who do not have disabilities.

What rights do parents and guardians have under IDEA?

One reason some parents and guardians like IDEA is that this law offers numerous specific protections and procedural safeguards. These include:

  • Parent/guardian consent before evaluation (or the district must request a due process hearing from the state education agency).
  • Parent/guardian involvement including inspecting and reviewing all of their child's education records and participating in meetings about their child.
  • Notice to parents/guardians of decisions and plans before the district puts the proposed actions into effect.

Is a written plan necessary for protection under IDEA?

Yes. Under IDEA, a student is entitled to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An Individualized Education Program or "IEP" is the document that sets out what the school is going to do to meet the child's individual educational needs. There are a lot of specific rules about developing an IEP, reviewing it (which must be done at least once a year), and what an IEP must contain. Visit our page on Individualized Education Plans for more information.

Where can I find more information?

Most students with diabetes are protected under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and therefore this website focuses more on this law. However, the Center for Parent Information and Resources has many excellent resources on IDEA in both English and Spanish.

  • Last Reviewed: March 25, 2015
  • Last Edited: March 26, 2015