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Article of Interest - IDEA Reauthorization

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Bridges4Kids LogoDREDF Analysis of SB 1248
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc. (DREDF) News Briefing #33, April 1, 2004
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SCHEDULE FOR SENATE BILL 1248: The bill could come to the Senate floor at any time; the latest dates under discussion are April 7 or April 8. If the bill passes the Senate, it will go to conference where it will have to be reconciled with the House bill, H 1350. 

 

KEY MESSAGES ABOUT S. 1248: DREDF believes S. 1248 makes several improvements to IDEA that will result in students with disabilities meeting higher standards and achieving greater educational results.

 

These provisions include:

* POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORTS: The bill takes pro-active steps so that students receive the supports they need to manage their behavior. The bill also provides funding to schools to expand behavior supports and whole school behavior interventions.


* ALTERNATE ASSESSMENTS: The bill successfully addresses the need for states to increase research and development in the area of alternate assessments by creating Section 662(b)(3).

* SCHOOL TO LIFE TRANSITION: The bill includes several provisions to increase the success of special education students when they transition from school to the rest of their lives. Specific requirements are added to the Rehabilitation Act, and the bill strengthens the transition provisions of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

* PERSONNEL: The bill applies the "highly qualified" provisions of No Child Left Behind to special education teachers. It strengthens and expands personnel preparation and personnel development authorities for both special education personnel and general educators.


Despite these improvements, the bill contains several dangerous provisions that weaken the rights of students with disabilities. These provisions include:

* ELIMINATING SHORT-TERM OBJECTIVES: The bill removes short-term objectives from a child's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and replaces them with a statement of the child's progress toward annual goals in the form of quarterly reports. This change will make it more difficult for parents and schools to measure student progress. Moreover, this provision may actually increase the paperwork requirements of IDEA. The bill should require instructional objectives in IEPs.

* LIMITATIONS ON DUE PROCESS PROTECTIONS: The bill limits due process protections for students with disabilities. Specifically, the bill requires parents to present due process claims at an "opportunity to cure" IEP meeting that can be used to coerce parents into giving up their children's due process rights (especially as parents' attorneys cannot be reimbursed for participation in the meetings). This provision is unnecessary, because current law already gives districts opportunities to resolve problems prior to a due process hearing.

* The bill also establishes a STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS that limits the amount of time parents have for filing a due process hearing request or for appealing a due process decision. This provision will leave those children who have experienced the most egregious and long-standing denials of FAPE without a remedy.  For example, 90 days (or less if the state so chooses) for parents to file an action in court at the conclusion of administrative proceedings is woefully insufficient for unrepresented parents. The Senate bill also allows states to set their own statutes of limitations, and these can be shorter than the limits provided in the bill.

* MONITORING AND ENFORCEMENT: Among the most important issues to parents and disability advocates are the effective implementation and enforcement of IDEA. While the Senate bill makes some improvements in these areas, it leaves too many major decisions to the U.S. Department of Education. For example, the bill does not define what constitutes substantial non-compliance, nor does it standardize specific benchmarks from state to state. The bill does not include Part C in the monitoring and enforcement activities.

* RESEARCH ADMINISTRATION: The bill redirects the research function from the Office of Special Education Programs to the Institute for Education Science (IES). IES has no track record in special education research. Moreover, this move increases the disconnect between research and practice and seriously jeopardizes research on the needs of children with significant disabilities and low incidence disabilities.

* PERSONNEL STANDARDS: The "highly qualified" definition for special education teachers needs clarification to ensure that all teachers new to the profession are trained in state-approved special education preparation programs. In addition, an appropriate definition of "highly qualified" for related services personnel should be included in S. 1248.


* FUNDING: Parents and disability advocates support mandatory full funding of IDEA. However, we oppose the provisions in S. 1248 that enable local education agencies to funnel IDEA funds to non-IDEA activities when states have never effectively met their obligations to students with disabilities. It is past time for Congress to fund this law.

AMENDMENTS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Beware of amendments introduced on the Senate floor. Two key issues not in the Senate bill as it was reported out of the HELP Committee will likely surface as floor amendments.


* Attorneys' Fees: The Senate bill does not currently cap the amount of fees a court may award parents who prevail in due process proceedings nor does it allow the State (which is sometimes a defendant in these actions) to determine the rate that parents' attorneys are paid, whereas the House bill contains these dangerous provisions.

* Paperwork Waiver: The Senate bill does not currently include a pilot program included in the House bill that would allow states to waive any IDEA requirement that might result in a real or perceived paperwork burden.

ON PAPERWORK REDUCTION: We are sensitive to the burdens paperwork places on teachers, but we urge great care in any effort to reduce paperwork; essential rights and protections for children must not be compromised. These rights and protections include tracking school accountability for special education service delivery, adequate documentation of student learning, and clear communication between parents, teachers, and administrators so that all concerned understand a child's needs, agree upon goals, and agree to the means for achieving goals. One way to reduce paperwork and streamline procedures is to computerize Individual Education Plan (IEP) forms and standardize reporting and accountability. Some states, including New York ("IEP direct"- www.iepdirect.com) and South Carolina ("Excent" - www.excent.com) are already using these systems to assist teachers and school personnel to manage IEP development and data recording. Any effort to reduce or waive existing requirements for documentation and data collection must take into account:

* Effectively measuring and reporting EACH child's progress in order to successfully implement an IEP

 
* Adequately documenting IEP team decisions to protect the student's right to full access to educational experiences in the least restrictive environment

* Requiring sufficient data to enable PARENTS and schools to track educational outcomes for students with disabilities in a timely manner

DREDF
2212 Sixth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710

http://www.dredf.org/

    

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