Garima Singh, a law graduate from University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun discusses Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 2004 which throws light upon the need for laws that govern the mental health of children in Educational aspect.

Introduction

Children with special needs require special treatment in their day to day life. They require intensive care and assistance to do their daily chores. Education is one such area where utmost patience and diligence is sought from parents and teachers. There are very few laws that govern the mental health of children in the educational aspect. One such law in the USA is Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004, that covers the rights of students and their parents to receive Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). 

IDEA was passed to help and support students who face difficult situations every day. This Act governs students from birth till the age of twenty-one. Furthermore, the act is divided into 4 parts wherein:

  1. Part A – the General Provisions
  2. Part B – Assistance for Education of all Children with Disabilities
  3. Part C – Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities
  4. Part D – National Activities to Improve Education of Children with Disabilities

The foremost part is to create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) under which a plan is laid out considering the strengths, weaknesses, goals and needs of the student by a team of support personnel, guardians and the student (if considered appropriate). 

The layout is then put into motion to determine the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for the student.

Definition of Issue

To discuss Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) in context of the IDEA Act.

History

On November 29, 1975, President Gerald Ford signed into law the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (AHCA) (Public Law 94-142), now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).[1] This Act made it mandatory for the states to follow the protocol of having least restrictive environment for the children. This was deliberated to ensure equal status, due process and freedom among the individuals. The era of 1900s marked the first approach for these liberties. There is no direct provision dealing with LRE in the IDEA Act. Therefore, the first case regarding LRE, viz. Daniel R.R. v. State Board of Education[2] was an interpretation of the EHA’s directives. It was ruled by the court that “It is necessary for students to be educated on a continuum of what is considered the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).”[3] It was stated that the need of differently abled students to be a part of academic and extracurricular activities was well within their rights. 

In another case of Board of Education, Sacramento City Unified School District v. Rachel H.[4], the court identified four factors determining the LRE for a student: (1) the educational benefits of placement full-time in a regular class; (2) the non-academic benefits of such placement; (3) the effect a student have on the teacher and children in the regular class; and (4) the costs of mainstreaming the student.[5] Further in the case of T.R. v Kingwood Township[6] Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is the one that, to the greatest extent possible, satisfactorily educates the disabled child with the non-disabled, in the same school the child would attend if the child was not disabled.[7]

Current Status

After the rulings of the court, the schools have focused on the disabled children with more care and aid required as per a child-to-child basis. This was not the scenario before the intervention of the court. The rigorous monitoring by the federal and legislative bodies have made LRE into a success. The student is more progressive towards his studies, less absent from the classroom teaching and fewer disciplinary actions are taken towards him during the course.  This proved beneficial for the students with non-disability as well. There is much more interaction now among these peers, which has opened more opportunities for both groups. For example, in the case of Victor[8], LRE proved to be exceptionally rewarding. He was qualified as an emotionally disturbed child who abused and hit other students. He even tried to hurt himself and did not comply with his mentor’s requests which made him lag in his studies. The IEP team laid out the plan where he was to be accompanied by an aide to his classroom. As math being his strongest subject he was to devote 30 min every day in his fifth grade regular classroom. He was also required to spend time with his classmates during recess, class parties and silent reading to increase the social interaction as well as to make friends. 

Another example is of Sara who learnt best using a kinesthetic or tactile approach. The visual/auditory approach used in the general classroom had not worked in the past. A resource room setting proved to be more appropriate for using a tactile approach, with manipulatives for all academic areas.[9] These children showed exemplary transformation in their studies. Same level of enthusiasm was seen in Jodi, a sixth-grade student with a history of distractibility and off-task behavior. During her fifth grade year, several attempts were made to include her in the general education reading groups. Behavior management plans and reinforcement techniques had little effect on her distracting behaviors.

Personal Impact

The IDEA greatly benefited the students who were held captive of their right to free and fair education. The barrier between a special child and his right to receive proper education is now removed. This has impacted the society in a progressive and reformative manner. The equality of every individual to receive services for the education are absolute by the schools. As deduced by the present author, LRE must be introduced from preschool. A child gets accustomed to a learning pattern from a very tender age in order to belong to such inclusions. This also gives a chance to the teacher to communicate and analyze the child more thoroughly. For example, an 11-year-old child would find it a bit difficult to adjust to a new environment than a 3-year-old who has started his preschool with such setting.

Conclusion

The implementation and governance of IDEA Act has been exceptionally respectable. This Act not only opened the gates to millions of children who were deprived of their rights but the harassment and discrimination with these children has been uprightly put to an end. LRE is not only a recognized legal right but also a medium to seek the opportunities. It has been a proven fact over the years that a student placed in a general classroom showed more outcomes in learning than a child in the most restricted area. The Act lays responsibility on the schools to recognize a child’s ability and deliver him/her with the best suited environment for the overall growth.


Garima Singh is a Law Graduate from University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun


References

[1](education, 2017) https://sites.ed.gov/idea/about-idea/#IDEA-History 

[2]874 F.2d 1036 (5th Cir. 1989)

[3](Daniel R. R. v State Board of Education, n.d.) https://sites.google.com/site/jessalynsimmsfinal/influential-court-cases/daniel-r-r-vs-state-board-of-education

[4]14 F.3d 1398 (9th Cir. 1994)

[5](Sacramento City Unified School District, Board of Education v Rachel H, 1994) https://law.resource.org/pub/us/case/reporter/F3/014/14.F3d.1398.92-15608.html

[6]205 F.3d 572 (3rd Cir. 2000)

[7](US Supreme Court Decisions) https://specialeducationlawyernj.com/special-education-law/landmark-cases-in-special-education-law/

[8](Least Restrictive Environment: Benefits & Examples, 2020) https://study.com/academy/lesson/least-restrictive-environment-benefits-examples.html

[9]The Least Restrictive Environment, 2006) https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED498472.pdf 

IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.

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