Department Issues IDEA Regulations
Schools have slightly more leeway to discipline disruptive students with disabilities under long-awaited regulations for the nation's main special education law, released by the Department of Education last Friday.
While the unveiling officially ends the five-year process of overhauling the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the final rules may yet inspire new proposals by Republican lawmakers who contend that the IDEA has become too rigid and expensive for states and districts.
|For More Information|
|OSERS is hosting a satellite
teleconference on March 18, and has planned six regional
workshops for next month. You can watch the conference via the
Internet at: www.connectlive.com/
For more information, call (202) 205-5465 or (202) 205-5507, or check the department's Web site at: www.ed.gov/offices/
Late last week, the Senate approved a bill to expand the "Ed-Flex" program that included a Republican amendment that would allow districts to use their share of $1.2 billion in federal class-size-reduction aid for IDEA services instead.
Many observers here expect the idea and related funding issues to hover near the top of the federal education agenda this year.
"It's a very complicated law--educating students that have as much variation as students with disabilities is complex," said Jay A. McIntire, a policy specialist for government relations with the Council for Exceptional Children, a special education advocacy group. "There probably never will be a special education law that people aren't tinkering with."
In an interview last week, meanwhile, top officials in the Education Department's office of special education and rehabilitative services, or osers, stressed that they had created a "user-friendly" rules document they believe will put an end to some of the debate surrounding the 24-year-old special education law. The final rules for the current version of the law, which was amended most recently in 1997, were published in the March 12 Federal Register and posted on the department's World Wide Web page.
"The final regulations look very different than the proposed regulations, and they were influenced very much by the comments we've received," said Thomas Hehir, the director of the office of special education programs. Department officials said they received nearly 6,000 comments on the proposed rules last year.
At a House appropriations subcommittee hearing on March 9, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley faced complaints from some Republicans on the timing of the regulations' release. The department first vowed that the rules would be out in April 1998, in time for the 1998-99 school year.
House Republicans said that they asked for some minor changes when they reviewed a draft copy earlier this month, and that the requests played a role in the Education Department's failure to make a subsequent promised release date of March 5. ("Delay of Rules Leaves Schools in Doubt on IDEA," March 10, 1999.)
But others suspect that OSERS was reluctant to issue the final regulations while Congress was debating the Ed-Flex legislation, hoping to avoid an IDEA-related amendment to it.
The release of the final IDEA rules may not squelch debate on some of the law's most contentious issues, including the disciplining of violent or disruptive students with disabilities.
The final regulations give administrators some flexibility in applying the so-called 10-day rule that first appeared in the proposed rules in November 1997. That proposal would have barred school officials from suspending a disabled student for more than 10 days, total, in a school year without changing the student's previously agreed-upon special education placement. Changing a placement is a significant move that requires the student's team of teachers, administrators, parents, and specialists to meet and review his or her individualized education plan, or iep, before making such a decision.
Last week, some observers questioned whether the final regulations will offer schools more disciplinary freedom than they have now.
"The final regs do address the principle of allowing school systems to suspend students, but, on the other hand, they set up a standard of services we're concerned would just be too impractical for school systems," said Michael Resnick, the government-relations director for the National School Boards Association. "Only time will tell."
A summary of the final rules states:
- School officials may suspend a disabled student for up to 10 days at a time and for "additional removals of up to 10 days for separate acts of misconduct as long as the removals do not constitute a pattern."
- Schools do not need to provide educational services to disabled students during the first 10 days of suspensions.
- During any subsequent suspension for less than 10 days, schools must "provide services to the extent determined necessary to enable the child to appropriately advance in the general curriculum and appropriately advance toward achieving the goals of his or her IEP." School administrators and the special education teacher will determine the services needed.
- "Manifestation determinations," which ascertain whether the student's behavior is related to his or her disability, are required only for a suspension that results in a change of placement.
Mr. Resnick said he doubted the regulatory language would ease calls to further amend the statute's disciplinary provisions. "School officials care so deeply about this," he said, that "they will continue to demand legislative clarification."
"The greatest problem from the teachers is discipline," Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Ark., said at the House subcommittee hearing last week.
"You really have to balance discipline with the importance of education for disabled students," Mr. Riley responded.
IEP Team Requirements
OSERS also clarified several points regarding students' individualized education plans, which serve as a blueprint for a disabled students' education needs. The 1997 amendments stipulated that a student's regular education teacher must take part in the IEP process, leaving school officials to worry that the teachers could be called away from their classrooms too often for lengthy meetings.
"Our intent was to focus on the teacher's involvement in a meaningful way, to best utilize their time," Mr. Hehir of the Education Department said.
According to the new regulations:
- If a student has more than one regular education teacher, the school may choose which teacher should be involved in the process. Other teachers must be informed of their responsibilities and the supports, accommodations, or modifications needed to achieve the goals in the IEP.
- The regular education teacher does not have to be involved in all decisions of the IEP team, or to be present for every meeting or stay for the entire meeting. The IEP team may decide on the regular teacher's involvement on a case-by-case basis.
Also, the regulations address, for the first time, high school graduation for disabled students. If a student graduates with a regular diploma, the document says, that constitutes a change in placement and requires written consent. Graduation also terminates the student's rights to a free and appropriate public education, as mandated by the IDEA. But if a student graduates with less than a regular diploma, he or she is still entitled to educational services under the IDEA through age 21.
The regulations also stipulate that charter schools, whether or not they receive IDEA funds, must comply with the law and must serve students with disabilities in the same manner as traditional public schools.
In addition, the rules include guidelines for students with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and guidelines to help states determine the age range and definitions for the term "developmental delay."
Vol. 18, Issue 27, Pages 1,40