5 Principles of the IDEA

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees to each  child with a disability who needs special education the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE.)


The following five main principles of the IDEA embody the underlying spirit and intent of the IDEA and provide the framework around which special education services are designed and provided to students with disabilities who qualify for special education.

1. Free appropriate public education

The IDEA guarantees that each child with a disability who is eligible for special education is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE).


Free: The public education of each child with a disability must be provided at public expense and at no cost to the child’s parents. The exception is that incidental fees normally charged to non-disabled students or their parents as part of the regular education program may also be charged to students with disabilities and their parents.


Appropriate: Each child with a disability who qualifies for special education is entitled to an appropriate education to meet his or her unique needs. What is an “appropriate” education is determined on an individual basis.


Public: Children with disabilities, regardless of the nature or severity of their disabilities have the same right to attend public schools as their non-disabled peers. The public school system must educate students with disabilities, respond to their individual needs, and help them plan for their future.


Education: The IDEA guarantees that eligible children with disabilities will receive a public education that includes special education and related services based on the child’s individual needs.

2. Appropriate evaluation

IDEA requires that each child suspected of having a disability receive an appropriate evaluation:


  • In all areas of suspected disability

  • By a team of evaluators knowledgeable and trained in the use of the tests and other evaluation materials they use

  • Employing a variety of sound evaluation materials and procedures selected and administered so as not to be racially or culturally discriminatory

  • Without subjecting a child to unnecessary tests and assessments

  • Including the gathering of relevant information from a variety of sources

  • Based on information that is useful in planning for the child’s education

  • An appropriate evaluation provides information to be used to determine the child’s eligibility for special education and related services and the educational needs of the child.

3. Individualized education program (IEP)

In order to ensure that students with disabilities receive an appropriate education, the IDEA requires that, after drawing upon current evaluation information, the IEP team develop a written document, the IEP, designed to meet the unique educational needs of each student with a disability.

4. Least restrictive environment (LRE)

The IDEA guarantees that a child with a disability receive a free appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). This principle reflects the IDEA’s strong preference for educating students with disabilities in general education classes with the access to general education curriculum. Placement in the general education classroom is the first placement option the IEP team must consider.


When considering placement in the general education classroom, the team is required to explore the range of modifications and supplementary aids and services that are needed to ensure that the student can receive a satisfactory education in the general education classroom. If the IEP team determines that the student can be appropriately educated in the general education classroom using modifications and supplementary aids and services, this is the LRE for that particular child.


However, if the IEP team may determine that the student cannot be educated satisfactorily in the general classroom, even with the provision of modifications and supplementary aids and services. The team must then consider other placements outside of the general classroom in order to provide FAPE for the child. The range of such placements that each school system is required to have available is commonly referred to as the “continuum of alternative placements”. Thus, like all other components of a student’s special education, the LRE must be determined for each student based on the child’s individual needs.

5. Parent and Student Participation in Decision Making

This principle reinforces the belief that the education of children with disabilities is made more effective by strengthening the role of parents in the special education process. The IDEA requires that parents, and students when appropriate, participate in each step of the special education process. Students must be invited to participate in IEP meetings where transition services are to be discussed. Parent involvement includes:


  • Equal partnership in the decision-making process

  • The right to receive notice

  • The right to give consent for certain activities such as evaluations, changes in placement, and release of information to others

  • The right to participate in all IEP meetings concerning their child’s special education


Some procedural safeguards under the IDEA include the right of parents to:


  • Inspect and review their child’s educational record

  • Obtain an independent educational evaluation (IEE)

  • Be given written prior notice on matters regarding the identification, evaluation, and educational placement of their child

  • Request mediation and an impartial due process hearing

  • Be given a full explanation of all of the procedural safeguards under the IDEA and State complaint procedures

  • Appeal the initial hearing decision

  • Have their child remain in his or her present educational placement while administrative or judicial proceedings are pending, unless the parent and the public agency agree otherwise

  • Bring a civil action in a state or federal court to appeal a final hearing decision

  • Request reasonable attorney’s fees for actions or proceedings brought under the IDEA

  • Provide consent or refuse consent before their child is evaluated or reevaluated

  • Participate in discipline decisions regarding students with disabilities




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980 9th Street, 16th Floor, Sacramento, CA 


3017 Douglas Blvd., Suite 300, Roseville, CA


Or meet with us at

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Oakland, CA  


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