The Department of Education has released proposed regulations for the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act that seek to clarify the rules on highly qualified special education teachers, identification of students with learning disabilities, and the discipline of students in special education.
The department released the text of the proposed rules on its Web site June 10, leaving educators and advocates in the field a week to cram before officials took to the road for a series of public hearings on the proposed rules.
The clock will not start ticking on the 75-day comment period until the rules are published in the Federal Register, which was expected by early this week. That would give interested parties until some time in September to make comments. Education Department officials say their goal is to release final regulations by December.
Many observers said last week they were still digesting the proposed rules, which totaled a hefty 650 double-spaced pages in the version posted on the department’s Web site. However, some credited the department for producing proposed rules faster than the last time around, which was two years after the 1997 reauthorization of the IDEA. Congress approved the latest version of the main special education law in November.
“We’re certainly pleased the department is acting quickly to implement the law,” said Alexa Marrero, a spokeswoman for Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
“My hat’s off to them,” said Bruce Hunter, the chief lobbyist for the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators. “To get the [proposed regulations] out this fast is a massive feat.”
Troy R. Justesen, the acting director of the Education Department’s office of special education programs, said the department was seeking feedback on several issues, among them the provisions for determining “highly qualified” teachers under the IDEA, and the changes in responsibility for students with special education needs who are placed in private schools by their parents.
The department would also like comments on the part of the regulations intended to help schools determine whether students have learning disabilities.
The revised IDEA requires that special education teachers be highly qualified in every subject they teach, which has been a concern for some teachers who instruct students in more than one subject.
Another provision of the law says that a school district must provide some special education services to out-of-district students who attend private schools within that district. The provision is a change from the previous version of the law, which said that a district was responsible only for students who lived in the district.
Mr. Justesen, who said his team had been working on the regulations seven days a week since late December, said he believes the proposed rules do a good job of hewing to the wishes of the drafters of the law.
“It isn’t my role to try and write law,” he said. “My role is to explain and make useful what the president and Congress wanted to do.”
The development of the proposed regulations was aided by an unusual but successful series of informal public meetings sponsored by the Education Department, which netted thousands of comments, Mr. Justesen said.
“That had never been done before, and I think it turned out well,” he said. “Sometimes we would be thinking something was one way, and as soon as we got outside the [Capital] Beltway, we found out we were completely wrong.”
Mr. Hunter of the AASA, who had read the proposed rules through at least once, said he was pleased to see that they appeared to match in large part the language of the reauthorized IDEA approved by Congress.
However, the proposed rules maintains a state complaint procedure that Mr. Hunter said was part of the 1999 regulations but is not reflected in the IDEA statute itself. The complaint procedure makes extra work for school districts, he said.
“The lawyers apparently found some legal rationale to bring it forward,” he said.
Christopher P. Borreca, a Houston lawyer who represents school districts in special education matters, said he had not reviewed the entire set of proposed regulations, but he took issue with one that says a child in special education has had a change in school placement under the IDEA if there have been a series of short-term removals from the classroom that represent a pattern.
“I don’t think there’s a statutory basis for this,” Mr. Borreca said. “It’s an attempt to placate interest groups who were concerned that school districts would abuse the provisions that were in the law.”
But Janeen Steel, the director of the Western Law Center for Disability Rights’ Learning Rights Project, said she would be looking for such protections when she reviewed the regulations. The project, based in Los Angeles, teaches parents their rights under the IDEA and represents parents in special education disputes.
The reauthorized IDEA requires districts and parents to engage in informal efforts to resolve problems before they go to formal due-process hearings. Ms. Steel said she hopes the regulations make it clear that someone in power has to be a part of those informal meetings. Too often, she said, a meeting is held, but any potential solutions are deferred.
“No one’s willing to make decisions,” Ms. Steel said. “It’s not supposed to happen that way.”
The Education Department’s first hearing on the proposed regulations was scheduled for late last week in Nashville, Tenn. The next was scheduled for June 22 in Sacramento, Calif.