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The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA)


Enacted in 1974 under its original name of The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (I.D.E.A.) delineates the scope of educational services provided to disabled individuals under the age of twenty-one (21).

Under this act, there is a clear and concise guideline for the provision of special education services in that not every child with a disability is provided with special education services. In order for a child to be eligible for services the disability has to be such that it negatively affects the child’s ability to function in school as well as impedes educational progress and academic performance. A disability, under this act is operationally defined as mental retardation, autism, traumatic brain injury, certain learning disabilities, physical impairment, speech and language impediments and hearing impairment which require adaptive services to maintain optimal learning (Legal, n.d.).

Key components

There are six key components under the act. These components are very clear and concise and include the following:

  • The provision of free appropriate education.
  • Appropriate evaluation
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP)
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
  • Parent and Student Participation in Decision Making
  • Procedural safeguards (The 6 Important Principles, n.d).

In order to understand the scope and ramification of the aforementioned six components, it is prudent that we operationally define these terms. First free and appropriate education refers to the provision of special education and related services that are individualized to accommodate the child’s disability. These services are provided in a pre-school, elementary and secondary school setting and conform to a child’s individualized Education Plan (IEP).

The IEP is one of the most fundamental components of I.D.E.A. in that it specifies all of the services a child is entitled to receive based on his/her disability, level of functioning and perceived capability. It also specifies the frequency of the services. The IEP operates with the aim of providing the child with the necessary services within the least restrictive environment. As such, in cases where possible, children can receive IEPs in inclusionary or “regular education” classrooms.

In addition to the IEP, the act also delineates the level of related services a child with disabilities can receive. Under this act a child may receive transportation, supportive services such as speech, physical and occupational therapy, psychological services, rehabilitative services such as counseling and mobility services, social work and psychological services, a full range of diagnostic services as well as parental training (U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, n.d.).

Appropriate evaluation is one of the most integral parts of the 1997 reauthorization of I.D.E.A. It addresses the way in which evaluations should be conducted and sets standards for the conduction of evaluations whereby the child is not subjected to unnecessary testing which can prove to be costly. In conducting evaluations, educational activities should include obtaining pertinent information from varying sources including the teacher, the school administration and other individuals who render services to the child.

When providing free appropriate education, it is prudent that this education be provided in a setting which proves to be least restrictive for the child. This may include inclusion classes as it is presumed that children with disabilities fear better when they are in the same learning environment as their non-disabled peers. When considering this environment, factors such as the behavior of the child is considered in that if the child presents with no behavioral problems which interfere learning, he/she may be included in a regular education class and taken out at different points during the day when the special services are rendered to the child in an appropriate setting.

The notion that parent and student participation is essential in creating an optimal learning outcome for students with disabilities is one that has been discerned based on over 20 years of research. The research indicates that parental and student involvement in the entire process fosters a better understand of the disabilities possessed by the children as well as the ways in which these disabilities may be compensated for. Essentially, education on the part of the parent and the student can assist in the learning process of the student.

Free Appropriate Public Education

Finally, procedural safeguards were put into place to assure that the civil and other rights of the students with disabilities and their parents are protected under the tenets of Free Appropriate Public Education. These procedural safeguards are in place for the purpose of conflict resolution between the student/parents and the administrative body within the school system. These procedural safeguards include guidelines on disciplinary actions for students when deem necessary.

IDEA in its rudimentary stages proved to be problematic. As such, there was the need for several reauthorizations. The first reauthorization, PL 99-457 (1986) represented a series of amendments which became known as the Early Intervention Amendments extended Free Appropriate Public Education to all children between the ages of 3 and 5 with the provision that the child resided in a state which offered free public school education for children within this age group.

Additionally, it included a provision for infants and toddlers whereby the families of disabled infants and toddlers were provided with an Individualized Family Service Plan aimed at meeting the needs of both the infant and toddler and his/her family (Sass-Lehrer & Bodner-Johnson, 1989).

PL 101-476 represents the 1990 amendment of The Education for All Handicapped Children Act which facilitated the actual renaming of the Act to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Acts (IDEA). This reauthorization involved a change in terminology which included the more sensitive and politically correct terminology for referring for the constituents. Instead of referring to these individuals as “handicapped”, they were referred to as “disabled”.

This change in terminology facilitated an expansion of the scope of the services provided to disabled students. It begin with the provision of a free and appropriate education and extended the scope of services to include assistive technology serves in relation to the goals of the IEP as well as facilitated the greater use of the inclusionary approach to special education. In addition to this, it facilitated increased funding for early intervention programs for infants and toddlers and made a special IEP requirement which delineate that the IEP must specifically address plans for employment transition or the transition to post-secondary education (U.S. Department of Education, 1992).

PL 105-17 (1997), frequently referred to as IDEA ’97 represented the first time procedural considerations were applied to IDEA. It facilitated the increase of parental involvement and student participation in devising the IEP and incorporated clear and concise disciplinary procedures for students with disabilities. Another procedural change address in this act is one which incorporated a review of the evaluations a child receives as a part of the 3-year reevaluation process.

In addition to this, there was a clarification of the procedures involved in determining whether a child meets the criteria of being disabled under IDEA as well as adding ADD and AD/HD as conditions which may warrant a disabled classification. Along these lines, this reauthorization allowed for the utility of the term “developmentally delayed” to be utilized for children between the ages of 3 and 9 rather than its previous restriction to children between the ages of 3 and 5. Additionally, for the first time special education students would be included in both districtwide and statewide assessments (Knoblauch & Sorenson, 1998).

Singed into law on December 3, 2004, P.L. 108-446 represents the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA. Under this Act, IDEA was renamed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. This represents a major revision of IDEA and includes a clear and concise definition of the qualifications of special education teachers, increased funding for risk assessment in terms of student success, increased funding for special education services for transient special education students as well as increased funding to local educational agencies aimed at offsetting the cost of educating children in special education, revised statewide performance goals for children in special education in an attempt to fulfill the aims of the No Child Left Behind Act and significant procedural changes including dispute resolution and due process hearings.

Additionally, this Act facilitated the addition of a new category which takes into account incidents where a special education child has inflicted body harm on another individual. In such cases, there may a placement in an interim alternative educational setting. Finally, this Act facilitates the extension of services for infant and children beyond the age of 2 and based on the recommendation of a qualified professional (Apling & Jones, 2005).

The school staff, parents or other school personnel may request an evaluation if difficulties are identified in the student. When an evaluation is requested to determine the presence of a disability and the need for special education services, the school system is mandated to complete a comprehensive individual evaluation. When the evaluation is requested by individuals other than the parent, the parent must provide appropriate and timely written notification for the reason he/she is declining the evaluation.

Prior to the commencement of an evaluation, the parent must be notified of his/her right to dissent. After an evaluation has been conducted, a case conference committee convenes to discuss the results. A case conference is then scheduled between the case conference committee and the parent. During this case conference, the results of the assessment are discussed and the need for special education services is determined (Riddick-Grisham, 2004, p.348).

If it student is not eligible for special education services, the guidelines mandate that the parent must be notified in a timely manner and the process is then terminated. If the parent disagrees with the determination made by the school, the parent has the right to due process. This process involves the right to obtain an independent education evaluation by someone who does not work for the district at the cost of the district. If the school district, however, determines that the student is eligible for special education services, a case conference is convened between the school officials and the parent in order to determine the IEP (Riddick-Grisham, 2004, p.348).

It s prudent that we keep in mind the stated purpose of the evaluation process—to identity a child’s specific learning strengths, needs and concerns. An integral part of this process is the utility of a multidisciplinary team to collect information both formally and informally in order to assess the needs of a child.

This may involve a review of school records and school work as well as interviews with teachers, standardized testing and an examination of the different levels of services which may prove beneficial to a child with special educational needs. Upon completion of the evaluation, it is necessary to devise an IEP with the parent as an integral part of the IEP interdisciplinary team. Finally, there is a need for an assessment of the IEP and the guidelines indicate that there should be an annual review of the IEP at which time it must be adjusted to meet the changing needs of the child.


Apling, R.N. & Jones, L.N. (2005). Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Analysis of Changes Made by P.L. 108-446. Web.

Knoblauch, B. & Sorenson, B. (1998). IDEA’s Definition of Disabilities. Web.

Legal (n.d.). Education Laws. Web.

Riddick-Grisham, S. (2004). Pediatric Life Care Planning and Case Management. CRC Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Sass-Lehrer, M & Bodner-Johnson, B. (1989). Public Law 99-457: a new challenge to early intervention. Am Ann Deaf. 134(2), 71-7.

The 6 Important Principles (n.d.). Web.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. (1992). Summary of existing legislation affecting people with disabilities. (ED355701).

U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (n.d.). History: Twenty-five years o progress in educating children with disabilities through IDEA. Web.

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