Every student who is determined to be eligible for services will have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal legislation that creates, funds and provides guidelines for Special Education across the United States. On this page, we highlight Part B of the Act, which applies to students with disabilities, ages 3-21, who need specialized instruction to meet their educational needs. We have organized this page around the six principles of the law, which guide the IDEA.

History of IDEA

For over three decades, the law has been re-authorized by legislators twice with input from schools and families. In celebration of the 35th anniversary of its passage, a video was created that takes a look back to what the conditions were like before IDEA, and how its passage has changed the educational landscape for students with disabilities today. View the video here: A Celebrating 35 Years of IDEA.

 Principles of IDEA

There are six basic principles of IDEA that help to outline the expectations of the law. Here is a brief overview and introductory information for families who are new to the Special Education process:

Parent Orientation to Special Education – Heartland AEA

Six Principles of IDEA– ASK

Special Ed Process– Alliance

Principle 1: A Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

The FAPE says that each student who is entitled under IDEA should receive a public education, designed to meet the student’s unique needs at no additional cost; and in accordance with state and national standards

What Does Fape Really Mean?

Principle 2: Appropriate Evaluation

Before it can be determined if a student is eligible for Special Education, evaluation procedures should be completed by qualified professionals. A request for an evaluation can come from a parent at any time and should be completed within 60 calendar days of providing written consent.

Special Education Evaluation– Alliance

Requesting an Initial Evaluation– ASK

Sample Letter Requesting Evaluation– ASK

Principle 3: Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

Every student who is eligible for Special Education services will have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) with goals and services designed to meet his or her special needs. This plan will be designed with inputs from parents and educators.

Contents of IEP– NICHCY

Smart IEPs–

Just for Parents: Your Child’s IEP– Alliance

Assistive Technology and IEP– Family Center on Technology and Disability

IEP Tips – Heartland PEC

Goals– Alliance

Principle 4: Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

The IDEA requires IEP teams to consider utilizing appropriate services and supports so that each student can be educated with their peers to the maximum extent that is appropriate for them. This is important because when students with disabilities are included with their peers, it can help to create friendships and a community of acceptance and understanding.

Considering LRE in Placement Decisions– NICHCY

Extent of Nonparticipation – NICHCY

Principle 5: Parent and Student Participation in Decision Making

The IDEA recognizes that research and experience have demonstrated that education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by strengthening the role and responsibility of parents and ensuring that families have meaningful opportunities to participate in the education of their children at school and at home. That is why the IDEA requires that parents and students actively participate throughout the IEP process.

Developing IEP –  NICHCY

A Student’s Guide to IEP – NICHCY

Answers about IDEA: Parent Participation – NICHCY

Principle 6: Procedural Safeguards

Disagreement among IEP team members can create a richer discussion and more innovative approaches to address an issue. There are formal and informal ways to help work through those issues. For parents ASK recommends putting concerns in writing, and asking schools to respond in writing. Another good way to address a concern informally could be getting in contact with a local Parent Coordinator through AEA. Please see the Conflict Resolution page for an explanation of the formal resources and process that are also available in Iowa.

Prior Written Notice– ASK

Dispute Resolution Comparison– IA DE

Alternative Methods of Conflict Resolution– ASK

Sample Letter Requesting PWN– ASK


The Office of Special Education Program’s Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004 website

The Federal IDEA Regulations

Iowa’s Guidance for Quality IEP’s

Parent Center Hub