IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act): Who’s Covered and Who’s Not

Two Cases with Two Outcomes of IDEA

Case 1: Tracy is a vivacious 5th grade student at Madea Elementary School. She has spina bifida and is able to fully participate in a regular education classroom, even with pullouts for daily catherizations by the school nurse and Occupational therapist. Under IDEA, Tracy is not considered disabled and would not be covered under the auspices and legal expectations of IDEA. However, Tracy would be covered under Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The school would have to provide Tracy with necessary accommodations to address her disability and the medical services needed to allow Tracy to fully participate in the school day.

Similarly, if Tracy had an orthopaedic impairment that required the need for assistance to move from classroom to classroom, her disability wouldn’t necessarily be accommodated under IDEA, but under Section 504. It is important for parents, teachers and resource staff to understand the difference between IDEA and Section 504 and the classification of students with disabilities they serve.

Case 2: Ronald wants to be a ballet dancer when he grows up. As a 4th grade student, Ronald is actively taking ballet lessons and showing great promise as a young dancer. Recently, Ronald auditioned for a leading role in "The Nutcracker" playing a young, upcoming ballet dancer who dreams of becoming the lead dancer as an adult in the musical magic of "The Nutcracker." Yesterday, Ronald was told that he didn’t get the part because he wasn’t the right type for the part. What the committee was telling Ronald was different from what he actually heard. The committee meant that Ronald was too tall to play the part of a young 6 year old ballet dancer. What Ronald heard was that he was too large for the role.

Ronald became anorexic and developed an eating disorder. His grades began to slip quite dramatically, so his parents asked for special accommodations under Section 504 for disabilities. They claimed that his eating disorder presented a disability under state law and wanted special education accommodations for tutorial services and extra test taking time in class. They were told by the school that Ronald could not be accommodated under Section 504 since he was not disabled and had chosen to become anorexic. The parents sued the District.

The Verdict

Ronald was not covered under Section 504, but he was covered under IDEA. The court ruled that due to Ronald’s emotional disturbance which led to his anorexia, he was disabled under IDEA laws and would be served.

Two Cases and Two Outcomes

In both cases, the outcomes provided legislative outcome for both students resulting in educational accommodations. Two cases with two outcomes that were different and unpredictable had two outcomes that provided academic and behavioral services for two students who had a disability as defined under IDEA and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The bottom line is that both students were served and covered under "equal protections of the law." (Equal Protection Clause – 14th Amendment).