Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

House Passes IDEA Reauthorization Bill: Despite Opposition from Virtually Every National Parent Organization and Many Teacher Groups, the U.S. House of Representatives Passed H.R. 1350 in April to Reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). (IDEA Notebook)

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

House Passes IDEA Reauthorization Bill: Despite Opposition from Virtually Every National Parent Organization and Many Teacher Groups, the U.S. House of Representatives Passed H.R. 1350 in April to Reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). (IDEA Notebook)

Article excerpt

IDEA is considered a civil rights act for children with disabilities because it guarantees a free, appropriate public education. Originally passed in 1975, it affects 6.5 million American children with disabilities. Before the IDEA, many children with disabilities were shut away at home or institutionalized. Today, with IDEA, children with disabilities receive the education and skills they need to be productive members of the community.

H.R. 1350 has been controversial because it rewrites sections of the current law and deletes many provisions that are thought to protect the rights of children with disabilities. Parent anxiety increased when House authors did not significantly change the bill and pushed to pass it quickly. The House voted largely along party lines. At this writing (May 8, 2003), a Senate bill is eminent.

Families of children with disabilities say the House bill is a threat to progress brought about by IDEA. One provision in the bill significantly changes the Individualized Education Program (IEP). It phases out short-term objectives that measure a student's progress. House members say that standard report cards can do that, but parents say that report cards fail to acknowledge the unique objectives contained in IEPs.

The House bill allows an IEP to cover three years instead of one. The intent is to reduce paperwork for teachers, but parents say they wonder if a three-year-old IEP is appropriate for a rapidly changing child. While the provision is optional, parents are concerned that schools will routinely adopt three-year IEPs and that some parents may not know they can opt for an annual IEP. They also worry that families desiring an annual IEP may be encouraged to use a three-year plan instead.

The House bill changes IDEA's discipline provisions. It gives schools unilateral authority to discipline students with disabilities for violating a code of student conduct policy, without considering if the disability is a factor in the behavior. It allows schools to put students into "interim alternative placements" for as many as 45 school days without an expedited appeal process. For example, a student with Tourette syndrome could be sent to an alternative placement for verbal outbursts even though he couldn't control himself. For certain behaviors, the placement can extend beyond 45 days.

In addition, the schools would no longer need to develop behavior plans for students who need them. School administrators and others say that current IDEA discipline requirements are confusing and hard to implement.

The bill also changes parent notification requirements and procedures that safeguard students. It creates steps before parents can pursue due process and adds a one-year statute of limitations for filing a due process request.

The House bill fails to live up to Congress's original promise to fund 40 percent of special education service costs. The federal government now pays about 18 percent.

Parents and advocates for children with disabilities await the Senate IDEA reauthorization bill. As families realize that education and other rights cannot be taken for granted, they have begun calling, visiting, or e-mailing their senators hoping to inform them about the importance of special education services to their children.

For information about issues affecting children with disabilities and their families, contact PACER Center toll-free at (888) 248-0822; web site: http://www.pacer.org or the EP Foundation for Education, Inc., toll-free at (866) 393-3734; (Fax) 770-393-3738; web site: http://www. …

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