Urge Senate Not to Vote on Special Education Law
by Tricia Luker, February 19, 2004, Our Children Left
For more articles like this
Credibility of President Bush's Education Agenda Rests
with I.D.E.A. Reauthorization
Parents and education advocates across the United States are
urging the members of the U.S. Senate to halt consideration of a
bill that would drastically change the federal special education
law, known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(IDEA). Action on the Senate’s bill, S.1248, is anticipated next
Their worries are deeply rooted in a history of many years of
open discrimination against students with disabilities. The U.S.
House of Representatives passed its draconian IDEA
reauthorization bill (H.R. 1350) in 2003, even after every major
parent and teacher group opposed it. "H.R.1350 literally turns
the clock back 30 years, to a time when children with
disabilities were excluded from our public schools and our
public lives. This bill eliminates critical provisions of the
current law, provisions that enable children with disabilities
not only to enter our schoolhouse doors, but also to actually
stay in school. What's the point of letting kids in, only to
virtually guarantee that they'll be thrown right back out again?
Students will soon suffer these consequences if the Senate
passes its bill too," explains Sandy Alperstein, a parent and
attorney from Illinois.
According to Tricia Luker, a parent and advocate for students
with disabilities in Michigan, "The proposed legislation to
change IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is
so damaging to students and teachers that it should not become
law. Congress needs to start over next year if they really do
not want to leave 6.5 million students with disabilities
behind." Luker continues, "We are already seeing militant
reactions by schools, educators, and states protesting against
the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Now Congress is putting
America’s most vulnerable students in further peril by writing
legislation that will steal their educational rights away by
removing essential protections for students and teachers that
are now in IDEA."
Many parents are wondering why Congress is rewriting all of the
IDEA legislation when most of it is not required. As Debi Lewis,
a West Virginia parent and co-founder of an inclusion-oriented
Web site (www.psIDEA.org) accurately points out, "There are two
key points that parents and advocates must remember and remind
Congress at every opportunity. The first is that the '97
amendments already entailed significant compromise. The second
is that Part B of the IDEA, where all the damaging revisions
lie, does not require reauthorization at all. Congress needs to
stop meddling with this finely tuned section of IDEA and simply
reauthorize those parts which require it."
Susan Ross, a parent and activist for public education, agrees.
"It is clear that Congress just doesn’t understand any of this
at all. They need to go back to the drawing board and do their
homework first. This IDEA reauthorization is rapidly destroying
the credibility of President Bush's entire education agenda, not
to mention the lifelong damage that both of these bills stand to
inflict on students."
Parents have every reason to be concerned. Decades of special
education's best practice procedures will soon be made
unavailable to students and teachers. "The Senate bill would
eliminate some of the basic protections for students, and change
the required individual education plans for each student by
removing the short term educational step-by-step goals that are
so helpful to both parents and teachers," according to
"Congress says it's changing the law to reduce paperwork for
teachers, but teachers themselves say short term educational
objectives are critically important," says Bev Johns,
chairperson of the Illinois Special Education Coalition. "The
U.S. Department of Education in 2003 paid for the Study of
Personnel Needs in Special Education that surveyed special
education teachers all across the country. The SPeNSE Paperwork
Substudy report showed that short term student objectives are
the 'most helpful in educating their students' and the second
most important part of special education for teachers."
Dave Wong, a parent from California, couldn’t agree with Johns
more. Wong takes his explanation a step further by saying, "For
many students referred to special education, barriers to
learning are not strictly academic; they are emotionally and
behaviorally based. The Senate has done better than the House on
the topic of supporting students with behavior issues, but its
work is far from complete. Provisions in the ’97 statute are
still better than those to be voted on this March. Measurable
short term objectives, "stay put" protections for students, and
positive behavior support strategies implemented with fidelity
are essential components that must work in concert for these
students not to be left behind, or worse, left out."
What makes all of this even more troubling for parents is that
their due process rights, the provisions that allow for parents
to advocate and hold schools accountable for promised actions,
may be ripped out from under them. "Both the House and Senate
are looking to dramatically tip the balance of power toward
schools and away from students and families. Parents thought
that with the No Child Left Behind Act they would be empowered
to help hold schools accountable. Looks like they meant it for
some selected kids, but not for the kids who may not be able to
speak for themselves and need parent advocacy the most," says
Mike Savory, an advocate and activist from Virginia.
Parents across the nation feel so strongly about these issues
that many have joined forces in an effort to influence the
upcoming elections. Larry Greenstein is a founding member of the
League of Special Equation Voters of the United States, Inc. (www.SpEdVoters.org).
The League is planning March events in Washington, D.C. to
preserve the original IDEA’s integrity. Greenstein reports, "The
League of Special Education Voters opposes S.1248 in its present
form. We believe that the removal of short term objectives and
the changes to the discipline provisions, stay-put provisions,
and due process provisions will each have a significant negative
impact on the education of all children. Throwing money at the
problem is not the answer, and neither is basing accountability
solely on yearly standardized testing. Education is a process,
and the children must be the prime consideration in any system.
The learning needs of children must come before the convenience
of the educators."
The U.S. Department of Education Web site (www.ed.gov/nclb) says
that the No Child Left Behind Act "gives parents and children a
lifeline." It also says that it "focuses on what works."
However, parents feel that none of this is true when it comes to
students with disabilities. They feel that their few viable
lifelines are being destroyed by Congress and that "what works"
for students with disabilities has never been a consideration in
the IDEA reauthorization process.
"We hear a lot of talk about 'aligning' the IDEA with No Child
Left Behind. Could anything be more absurd? One law is all about
individual students, whereas the other is all about groups of
students. They’re comparing apples to oranges," Lewis adds. "No
Child Left Behind is intended to improve educational outcomes. I
see absolutely nothing in either IDEA reauthorization bill that
can be reasonably expected to improve educational outcomes for
students with disabilities. Virtually every revision is about
administrative convenience, many to the detriment of the
For more parent friendly IDEA reauthorization information, visit
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