Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Putting Children's Needs First: The IDEA Improvement Act of 1997

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Putting Children's Needs First: The IDEA Improvement Act of 1997

Article excerpt

On the first day of the 105th Congress, Representative Bill Goodling and I introduced legislation to strengthen local special education programs across the country.

While the Goodling-Riggs IDEA Improvement Act of 1997 represents the most sweeping changes and reforms to special education in over 20 years, its language is not new. The measure is identical to the bipartisan consensus IDEA bill passed by the House last year. Republicans and Democrats, unions and disability groups, educators and administrators came together in support. There was no opposition in the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, the Senate was not able to vote on the special education bill before recessing last year, making it necessary to start the process anew in 1997.

The IDEA focus

We believe that bureaucracy for its own sake and process without purpose currently diverts educators' efforts away from their real objective: children's education. This bill provides new flexibility for making disability evaluations, eliminates much of the duplicative paperwork engulfing educators, and ensures that special education does not exclude basic academics.

The IDEA Enhancement Act focuses on three primary areas for high-quality education:

* Resources for children's education;

* Parents' participation;

* Tools teachers need to teach all children.

Parents as partners

There needs to be more opportunity for parental involvement in their children's education. The current special education system often keeps parents from making decisions about their own children.

The IDEA bill states that parents are full partners in Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams and should participate in special education placement decisions. They have the right to receive information on their child's IEP progress and on how it compares with mainstream curriculum requirements. Finally, parents have the right to have access to all their child's records, not simply "relevant records" (where the school defines "relevant"), as currently is the case.

The bill also provides mediation services so parents always have an alternative to litigation when they feel their children's needs are not being properly addressed.

Empowering educators

Current law has created a special education system that too often places educators at the periphery of the special education process. …

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