Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Individuals with Disabilities Educational Improvement Act: 35 Years of Changes for the Better-With Room to Do More

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Individuals with Disabilities Educational Improvement Act: 35 Years of Changes for the Better-With Room to Do More

Article excerpt

Last November marked 35 years since former President Gerald Ford signed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act into law. In 1990, it was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It was amended in 1991, 1997, and 2004, when it became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIAj, though IDEA1 continues to be the commonly used name.

Before IDEA

What was it like before the act became law? According to "Back to School on Civil Rights: Advancing the Federal Commitment to Leave No Child Behind," a report (2) sponsored by the National Council on Disability in 2000. only 20% of children with disabilities received an education in America's schools prior to 1970. In Fact, laws in many states denied more than a million children with disabilities from attending school. Approximately 3.5 million students received inappropriate services, and more than 200.000 individuals were institutionalized.

Since it became law

"It's a different world now," says Mary Grodin, a Special Care Planner with San Francisco Bay Area Agency, a general agency of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). "The rights of students with disabilities are protected by law, and more teachers are being properly educated to serve this student population. And there are now more individuals and organizations to turn to for help when parents need additional support or an advocate."

The U.S Department of Education's website for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (3) states that today more than 6.6 million children receive special education services. Early intervention programs serve nearly 350,000 infants and toddlers.

But still, over the years there have been concerns that the act doesn't do enough. Prior to 2004, when IDEA was amended and improved, some concerns, which continue to some degree today, were:

* inadequate government funding to fully support the Act,

* not enough qualified teachers and little ongoing professional development.

* lack of attention on learning goals,

* no focus on prevention and early intervention,

* paperwork and procedures that stalled delivery of education plans, and

* overidentification of students with needs (especially among minorities).

Some of these concerns have been addressed, and in a November 3010 speech4 acknowledging the 35th anniversary of IDEA, President Barack Obama encouraged all to continue the "ever-unfinished work," He said, "And even as we celebrate children with disabilities and their parents, teachers, advocates, and all who still strive to tear down the true barriers to success--even as we celebrate how far we've come--we commit ourselves to the ever-unfinished work of forming that more perfect union." To support that work, he signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the "Stimulus Plan"), which included $12.2 billion in additional funds for IDEA.

Advocating for your child

"I often hear that it's a constant battle," says Grodin. "Parents must really fight for a fair and equal education for their children with special needs." She recommends that if your school system, after testing your child, determines he or she lias no need for special education, consider evaluation by an outside authority. The school district may not have the resources available to meet your child's needs "You'll have to advocate for your child and prove the need," she explains. "You can file a complaint if you're not getting services you believe you should."

Grodin also recommends that parents learn about their child's educational rights and how to deal with school districts, "For example," she says, "know how to negotiate and communicate with a range of personality types, understand how to read between the lines of school reports, and insist that your school's special education professionals are clear and precise in developing plans and evaluating your child's progress. …

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