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Special Education

Congressional Researchers Weigh In on Special Education Case Law

By Christina A. Samuels — May 29, 2009 2 min read
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Many of you may already be familiar with the Government Accountability Office, the congressional “watchdog” agency that recently released a report on restraints and seclusion.

Less well-known is the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which communicates directly with Congress. Though funded with taxpayer dollars, that office’s reports are not made available to the public in the same way that GAO reports are. To get them, you have to request them from your congressional office—assuming that you know what report to ask for, because there is no centralized list of all the CRS reports that are available unless you’re willing to pay a hefty fee to agencies that compile this information.

Jim Gerl, the writer of the Special Education Law Blog, mentioned in a recent post that the CRS issued reports recently on important court decisions that have been made since the reauthorization of IDEA in 2004. The report addresses issues such as:

  • What amount of educational progress is required to meet FAPE standards?
  • What educational benefits are required to be put in an individualized education
    program (IEP)?
  • What use of seclusion and restraints is allowed (if any) under IDEA?
  • Are all settlement agreements enforceable in federal court or only those reached
    through dispute resolution or mediation?
  • Does the Supreme Court’s decision in Arlington Central School District v.
    (pdf) correctly deny reimbursement for expert witness fees?
  • Does there need to be more detailed guidance on systemic compliance

This 25-page, April 14 report, “The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Supreme Court and Selected Lower Court Decisions,” is on the Web site of the National School Boards Association here (scroll down to the appropriate link, which is a PDF file.) The NSBA page also includes a link to an April 14 CRS report on the topic of seclusion and restraints.

The case law report is particularly interesting because it includes many lower-court rulings, not just the Supreme Court cases that tend to get the most media attention. And, as the NSBA notes, the questions raised in the report could indicate future areas of interest for legislation. IDEA reauthorization may be a long way off, but that doesn’t mean congressional staffers aren’t already pondering the issues.

I thank NSBA for its commitment to transparency; these reports are not classified, and we as taxpayers have already paid for them. Apparently CRS takes very seriously its role to serve Congress only, but Congress also serves us, even if not all lawmakers believe these reports should be widely released.

Some other organizations exist to collect CRS reports that have been provided to them by others who believe the information should be in the public domain. If you search for IDEA or “disabilities” at Open CRS or WikiLeaks, you can find older CRS reports compiled there.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.