Law is not the problem
by Diane J. Lipton, USA Today, June 18, 2002
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The rallying cry of "too much paperwork" is another attempt to
obscure the important issues and specific requirements of the
1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that
are under attack. For 6 million U.S. children with
disabilities, the law represents important civil rights
legislation. Required documentation is part of the law's
attempt to make school districts accountable for addressing
individual educational needs.
Claims are made that special educators spend an excessive
amount of time on paperwork and meetings. The law requires an
Individualized Education Program (IEP), developed one time
each year in a meeting for each student who receives special
While the focus of these meetings and paperwork is too often
on procedural compliance with the law rather than on
instructionally relevant information, the purpose of the IEP
is to focus on individualized instruction and academic
progress. If special educators pay more attention to
compliance than to student progress, that is the fault of the
teacher — not the law.
A more pertinent issue is whether special educators are being
expected to serve too many children. With increasingly large
caseloads for special educators come increases in paperwork
and meetings. Even more important, though, that compromises
the quality and quantity of special education services. Blame
is conveniently shifted to "paperwork" rather than factors
such as case load size.
Some complain that provisions added to IEP requirements in
1997 serve only to create additional paperwork and no
substance. However, these provisions were added because state
and federal monitors found that IEPs were not written
appropriately. Often, obvious considerations were not
addressed, such as the need for a child who is blind to
receive instruction in Braille. That may explain some of the
poor outcomes for special education students.
The 1997 enhanced requirements were brought about to
ameliorate identified problems with IDEA implementation prior
to 1997. This history should not be overlooked now as various
factions attempt to remove these "burdensome paperwork"
requirements, a thinly veiled attempt to roll back the law.
Diane J. Lipton is the director of Children's Advocacy
Program, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund Inc.