IDEA Rules Are Hot Topic at State Spec. Ed. Directors' Meeting

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Kansas City, Mo.

Figuring out the impact the proposed new rules for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act would have on their agencies was the prime discussion topic as state directors of special education gathered here last week for their annual conference.

If enacted as proposed last month, those regulations would come with stepped-up monitoring efforts to ensure compliance with the federal law, Thomas Hehir, the director of the U.S. Department of Education's office of special education programs, told members of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. Education Department officials will meet in February to discuss their monitoring process, he said. (" Proposed IDEA Rules Target Testing, Accountability," Oct. 29, 1997.)

But that doesn't take state agencies off the hook, he said. Federal officials will keep a closer watch on how the states monitor their local districts for compliance with the IDEA. He said he was worried that many state education departments had had their budgets cut so drastically that they were too short-staffed to monitor their districts.

In addition, states are not helping districts correct violations adequately nor are they properly punishing districts that fail to comply with the IDEA, he said. "There are times when the [school districts] may be engaged in flagrant violation of the law, and we expect you to be looking at that," Mr. Hehir said.

That angered several of the state directors, who said the OSEP is too concerned with regulatory details instead of actions that would help the most disabled students. "Part of what we need to focus on is what is reasonable and where does our emphasis lie, rather than dotting i's and crossing t's," said Marcia Mittnacht, the state special education director for Massachusetts.

More parents of special education students are taking advantage of school choice laws, particularly through charter schools and home schooling, researchers told the Nov. 16-19 meeting.

While research on the national charter school movement is still relatively limited, Minnesota, the first state to create the publicly financed but largely autonomous schools, is showing some exceptional trends, according to speakers here.

In Minnesota, about 25 percent of students in charters are disabled, said Cheryl Lange, a researcher at the University of Minnesota. She estimated that the national average is about 7 percent.

Home schooling for disabled students also appears to be on the rise, said Patricia Lines, a senior research analyst for the National Institute on Student Achievement, Curriculum and Assessment in Washington.

She said her research showed that there were about 80,000 home-schooled students in 1990, but about 200,000 in 1995. Part of the increase, though, might be attributed to more home schooling parents choosing to register their children with local districts, she said.

Stevan J. Kukic is stepping down after 11 years as Utah's special education director to take on another type of leadership role.

Beginning in January, the former president of the state directors' group will become a contractor for the Franklin-Covey Co., heading up its efforts to expand its educational leadership division.

The Provo, Utah-based company is well-known for publishing the best-selling Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and chain stores with its leadership products are sprouting up in malls and business centers.

Mr. Kukic wants to "get the great message of productivity out to more school districts, administrators, and universities." He said he would also keep a hand in special education issues that were important to him.


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