Celebrating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: IDEA

November 29, 2022

On November 29th, we celebrate the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the impact it has had in ensuring students with disabilities have the equal opportunity for an appropriate education.

What is IDEA?

The IDEA, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a very important law that ensures children with disabilities are provided with proper education services and accommodations. Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) works each day to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities, and school-age children are no exception.

The IDEA makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children. The IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 7.5 million (as of school year 2020-21) eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities.”1

Through the implementation of the IDEA, students with disabilities are assigned Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and the proper support or accommodations to keep them from being pushed out of the school system or isolated from their peers. We have seen in some cases students being suspended or having shortened school days due to their disability and the resulting behaviors.  IDEA’s impact in creating more inclusive classroom settings and providing appropriate accommodations to students is seen in the U.S. Department of Education’s report which found that more than 66% of children with disabilities are in general education classrooms for 80% or more of their school day in the 2020-2021 school year. IDEA also looks beyond education and aids in providing students with disabilities quality opportunities for participation in their community, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.

Some insight from our staff

We reached out to Disability Rights Tennessee staff that have worked directly with IDEA and asked for feedback. Our very own Sherry Wilds, who serves as our Assistant Legal Director, is an expert in the field and provided us with some great insight of IDEA’s impact.

“We must remember that students with disabilities are first and foremost children and youth who deserve an appropriate education.”

To start, we want to share that if you need services or resources in relation to IDEA, a good first step to take is putting in a request for a student’s evaluation by talking with their teacher or administrator and providing any documentation you already have related to their disability. According to the Special Education Framework (click here for the link to review) in the state of Tennessee, there is the Child Find Mandate, included in IDEA, that requires schools to seek out, identify, and evaluate all youth with disabilities in all school settings regardless of the severity of their disability.2

It is through evaluation and eligibility testing that the student can be provided with the education related services and supports that they need, allowing them the same opportunity to succeed as their peers. This is typically through an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, a written document developed through a team, comprised of parents, teachers, and other admin, that helps meet a student’s unique educational needs. The student’s IEP lays out benchmarks and goals for them and protects them from exclusion by mandating a detailed explanation of instances where they are not participating in a general classroom.3 Without these plans and supports, students have significantly reduced opportunities for success. If you are the parent of a student with a disability, you have the right to participate in the planning of their IEP.

“IEP’s can be used like a road map to a successful education for students with disabilities.”

We feel it is important to note the challenges educators face in carrying out IEPs when they are in a constraint for time or resources. If you feel that you do not have the proper capacity or support to carry out IEP’s and aid these students in succeeding, reach out to your administrators or the Tennessee Department of Education to see if there are support programs or trainings being offered.

IDEA is state specific. To review Tennessee’s laws, click here. Note the state rules and laws around restraint and seclusion, behavior assessments and plans, and other State Board of Education Rules. It is important that Tennessee continues to make strides in including students with disabilities with typical peers in school and community life as IDEA has outlined. If you encounter barriers, please reach out to us at 800-342-1660 or GetHelp@DisabilityRightsTN.org. You can also contact Transition TN by visiting their website, linked here, or contacting them via email at info@transitiontn.org. If you have questions about Administrative Complaints, you may contact an IDEA Complaint Investigator by calling (615) 741-2921 or fill out an Administrative Complaint form, linked here.4

November 29th is the anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. This law ensures equal opportunity to an appropriate public education for students with a disability by providing the groundwork for individualized education plans and other necessary accommodations. If you need help, contact DRT at 800-342-1660 or GetHelp@DisabilityRightsTN.org.  

Jess Klacik is the Communications Coordinator at Disability Rights Tennessee. For more information on education, visit https://www.disabilityrightstn.org/resources/education/.


  1. https://sites.ed.gov/idea/about-idea/
  2. https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/education/special-education/framework/sped_framework.pdf
  3. https://www.smartkidswithld.org/getting-help/know-your-childs-rights/your-childs-rights-6-principles-of-idea/
  4. https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/education/legal/legal_faq_idea_complaint.pdf