All Articles Education Commentary Districts need a comprehensive approach to IDEA compliance

Districts need a comprehensive approach to IDEA compliance

Proper IDEA compliance requires a group effort in school districts. Structured systems and processes can make it easier.

3 min read


Adult and person with special needs in a classroom for article on IDEA compliance

(FG Trade via Getty Images)

As a school board member, I’ve worked with educators on policies aimed at serving students with disabilities for more than a decade. While our teachers and administrators remain committed to fostering inclusive classrooms, they face persistent challenges documenting and tracking activities to comply with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. 

My district’s challenges are similar to what other districts and states encounter. According to the Office of Special Education Programs, state education departments still struggle to meet IDEA Parts B and C requirements consistently. These sections mandate that students with disabilities from birth through 21 receive a free, appropriate public education. The data collected between 2014 and 2023 reveals that only seven states consistently met requirements for IDEA Part B each year. The 2023 determination letters from the US Department of Education report that only 23 states (and territories) met IDEA Part B requirements in the most recent fiscal year.

To help states bridge this gap, the Education Department in July shared updated guidance on monitoring and enforcing IDEA Parts B and C. The guidance document describes state agency responsibilities, including addressing district and child-specific noncompliance. However, it’s up to each state to decide how they’ll collect information from their districts each year to determine whether that district meets requirements, needs assistance or requires intervention or substantial intervention. 

The guidelines specifically outline areas local educators must focus on, including:

  • IDEA compliance with established indicators.
  • Gathering accurate, reliable and timely data.
  • Prompt correction of any identified noncompliance.
  • Review of additional data that shows district compliance with IDEA.

Data collection at the district level

We must support district leaders in the data collection effort. To ensure we meet IDEA requirements, local school board members, administrators, educators and families must work together. At the local level, we can ensure we collect the right data by putting the right systems in place. These systems should track key metrics, including completion of initial student evaluations within 60 days, parent involvement, individualized education program meetings, standardized test scores, graduation rates and many others. 

Brown notebook on black desk of colorful papers and office tools reading "individualized education plan" for article on IDEA compliance
(Designer491 via Getty Images)

As a public school board member and parent of a child with an IEP, I’ve seen how challenging it can be to gather and monitor necessary data critical to showing IDEA compliance. Relying on spreadsheets and emails isn’t enough. Our educators need a comprehensive tool for streamlined data collection and storage over multiple years. This will not only aid us in reporting our data to states but also identify needs in our schools and special education programs that require immediate attention. 

With the right systems and processes, schools can do more than check the boxes. Instead, educators can use these tools to gain actionable insights and analytics to transform programs for students with disabilities, elevating the focus from compliance to educational excellence. The right systems can help navigate us through each step in the process, helping local educators:

  • Manage state findings and monitoring activities.
  • Identify which student corrections have been completed and which still require attention.
  • Show the team’s progress toward IDEA compliance for a particular period.

Special education stands at a critical juncture. If we fail to report IDEA compliance accurately, we risk losing federal funding. More importantly, if we don’t understand where our efforts are falling short, we risk compromising the quality of education we deliver to our most vulnerable students. With the right tools to monitor and improve the quality of our special education programs, we change how we view this mandate and serve as a model for how districts meet IDEA requirements — while driving greater impact for students.