Access to primary public education is a right that has been enshrined in both federal and state law. The right is not dependent on whether a child has certain physical or mental abilities. When a child has certain limitations and qualifies for special education, this entitles them to additional rights and privileges to ensure the school is meeting their academic needs. In this article, we look into the law that grants these rights and compare the federal versus state laws.

What Is The Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA)?

The Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA) mandates certain minim standards that the states must provide students with disabilities. IDEA is a federal law. Although state laws must provide the minimum requirements in IDEA, they may also provide additional opportunities and rights to students.

Who Qualifies For Special Education Under IDEA?

The federal guidelines outline 13 disabilities that may qualify a student for special education. The disability must adversely impact the student’s life. States have the flexibility to expand the number of disabilities that may qualify an individual for special needs treatment and can lower the threshold definition of what it means to be adversely impacted by a disability so that more children may be able to qualify. Additionally, these definitions may differ from state to state but within the various school districts in a state. For example, Hillsborough County School District might have a different definition of what “adverse impact” means than Pinellas County School District.

IDEA Guarantees Free Public Education

The federal requirement of IDEA guarantees children with disabilities a free public education. Under state law, states must provide free public education to students with a disability. However, the states get to determine what type of instruction and programs they will provide.

Procedures Under IDEA

The federal law lays out procedures in which each state must follow under IDEA to determine whether a child qualifies for services and what those services are. State law must follow the procedures but may allow for changes to benefit the student or parents. For example, under federal law, the district must complete an evaluation within 60 days after a parent makes the request. State law can lessen the time period to give quicker access. For example, a state may require the school to evaluate the student 30 days after a parent makes the request.


Under IDEA, federal law allows for early intervention in situations where a child may have a developmental delay. Since the federal law does not define what a delay is, it is up to the states to decide the definition and what services they will give for such a delay.

Age To Receive Services

Under IDEA, federal law states that a student is eligible for services up to the age of 21 as long as they are in school. State law can extend the benefits beyond the age of 21.

Transition Services For Adulthood

Under IDEA, federal law mandates that at age 16, a transition for a post-high school job world should begin for the student. State law may allow the transition to begin sooner, such as 14 years old.

Know Your Rights

IDEA is a wonderful law that provides many rights for students with disabilities. A parent of a child with disabilities needs to know and understand these rights. The lawyers at Thompson Law have worked tirelessly to ensure families have received the rights guaranteed to them under federal, state law, and school board district rules and regulations. If you are a parent of a child with disabilities, contact Thompson Law to make sure your child receives every opportunity afforded to them.