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IDEA Law now in Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee

Issue:
The US House passed H.R. 1350, the Improving Education Results for Children with Disabilities Act of 2003, which reauthorizes the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) The provisions in H.R. 1350 and in its companion bill, H.R. 1373, the IDEA Parental Choice Act of 2003, jeopardize educational quality for the most vulnerable children in our public schools. In this era of "Leave No Child Behind," the House is proposing to do just that: to leave behind children with disabilities.

The changes contained in H.R. 1350 will have a lasting impact on the lives of students with disabilities and their families, and parents and many professional organizations are overwhelmingly opposed to the bill. This bill weakens services and supports for children and undermines their protections and rights. H.R.1350 is in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The Senate is drafting an IDEA bill. Members need to hear from parents that the House version harms our children. As written, the bill goes to great lengths to appease school administrators while seriously eroding the rights of students. Your involvement is needed immediately to let legislators know the proposed changes in IDEA will affect your child.

Background:

These are some of the reasons that the disability community finds this bill to be dangerous and to curtail the hard-won civil rights protections children with disabilities have enjoyed since 1975:

DISCIPLINE PROVISIONS: The discipline provisions of H.R. 1350 punish children with disabilities for disability-related behaviors, remove manifestation determination reviews, and deny children with disabilities the appropriate supports they need to succeed in school by removing functional behavior assessments and positive behavior support plans. This bill allows school personnel to unilaterally remove a disabled child from his or her current placement for the violation of ANY school rule, EVEN IF the behavior is a manifestation of the child's disability; manifestation determinations are eliminated. The bill punishes children for behaviors they cannot control (for example, a child with Tourette Syndrome who shouts out in class). This is a repudiation of everything IDEA stands for. By also removing the requirement to develop positive behavior support plans, the bill lacks even the pretense of concern for the well-being of children with disabilities. Many of these proposals were brought forward in 1997 and replaced with a compromise that unilateral actions and alternative placements can occur only in the most serious situations, those involving weapons and drugs. In no other arena are there proposals to make procedures for students with disabilities exactly the same as those for non-disabled students, whether or not the student can control the behavior or understand its consequences. Current law contains provisions for functional behavioral assessments and behavior intervention plans, and these provisions are crucial for children with disabilities.

ELIMINATING SHORT-TERM OBJECTIVES: The rationale for this provision is that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) makes short-term objectives and benchmarks unnecessary, yet NCLB nowhere provides for measuring progress toward IEP goals. Short-term objectives give parents useful information about their student's progress on important academic and non-academic goals. Without them, no reporting mechanism exists to mark a student's progress. The idea to eliminate short-term objectives was debated during the 1997 reauthorization discussions and defeated. It should be defeated again.

THREE-YEAR IEPS: Three-year IEPs remove school accountability for educating children with disabilities. Children change and grow rapidly and their educational programs need to be thoroughly reviewed at least annually. Waiting three years for a comprehensive program evaluation is indefensible.
The bill uses the phrase "paperwork reduction" to gut the core provisions of IDEA. While this is an optional choice for parents, many parents will either be confused by it or feel coerced to accept this option. We believe that an annual IEP is necessary to review the child's progress and to make necessary modifications. If parents are pressured to accept a three-year IEP, parental participation and the school's accountability to parents will decrease. This proposal purports to "streamline" the annual review, but given the cursory nature of most IEP reviews currently, the proposal panders to "paperwork" complaints with no benefit, and a likely detriment to children. There are better ways to make the IEP process and paperwork more user-friendly for parents, teachers, and administrators.

DILUTION OF FUNDS: H.R. 1350 diverts funds away from direct services to children with disabilities and allows 15% of the money to be used for a new pre-referral program, to supplant local education funds, to provide "supplemental services," and to be used for purposes other than the provision of services for children with disabilities. Given that IDEA funding is woefully inadequate, this proposal takes already scarce funding from IDEA-eligible students, the very students the law was enacted to serve. In addition, H.R. 1350 does not contain full funding for IDEA and thus does nothing to ensure that additional resources will accompany these major changes to the law. And nothing in the bill precludes schools from keeping children in a pre-referral category indefinitely, whereas those with disabilities should receive the full protections of IDEA as soon as possible.

VOUCHERS: H.R. 1350 permits the development of state voucher programs that would send some students with disabilities to private schools that are not accountable under the law. This bill allows local public school districts to use federal IDEA funds to give partial "scholarships" for use in private schools, including those that are faith-based. The funds may also be used for tutoring and other private services for students in schools deemed to be failing. DREDF and People for the American Way have co-authored a detailed analysis of the McKay voucher program in Florida and the ways in which it has failed students with disabilities and their families. The report is entitled "Jeopardizing a Legacy: "A Closer Look at IDEA and Florida's Disability Voucher Program" and can be read athttp://www.dredf.org/press_releases/Vouchers.pdf.

PAPERWORK REDUCTION: The 10-state "demonstration" project allows the Secretary to waive IDEA statutory and regulatory provisions with no public review process.

PROCEDURAL CHANGES: The House version of IDEA contains several provisions that significantly weaken parent involvement and the ability of parents to ensure that their children receive an appropriate education.

Voluntary binding arbitration means that parents will be asked to give up their right to appeal. Civil rights advocates have been arguing against binding arbitration in a variety of contexts. The bargaining positions of the parties are too unequal to rely on binding arbitration.
Forced settlement discussions without an attorney: The bill requires all parents who file for due process to go to a meeting to explain their complaint. The purported reason for this is to see if resolution can be reached without going to hearing. Yet in most cases the district is not only well aware of the problem, but has also refused to take the requested action. So why should a parent have to go to another (most likely unpleasant) meeting to discuss the complaint? To add insult to injury, the bill does not allow for attorney fees for these meetings. So, the bill is forcing a parent to go to a settlement negotiation underrepresented (unless they happen to have enough money to pay an attorney out of pocket).
The bill mandates a one-month waiting period before any parent complaint can go to due process regardless of the problem or issue.
The bill establishes a one-year statute of limitations on complaints for violations. This term can expire before parents even realize that a service is not being provided or that a student has not been receiving appropriate accommodations. Many children with disabilities cannot communicate these things to their parents. Statutes of limitations make it impossible for parents to participate in the process, to monitor school services and supports, or to adequately protect their children. Each of these provisions makes it more difficult for parents to work with school districts to obtain services for their children.

GOVERNORS SET ATTORNEY FEE RATES: The Case amendment to regulate fees for attorneys who represent parents and prevail, makes it clear that H.R.1350 is not looking out for the rights of families. There is no concomitant regulation of what school districts can pay the attorneys they retain. It is already difficult for many parents to find representation and this provision makes it even harder. It severely restricts the availability of lawyers to represent parents and children while having no affect on school districts' ability to find and pay legal counsel.

Children with disabilities deserve civil rights protections so that they have an equal opportunity to an education that can help them to become contributing citizens.

What you can do:

1. Attend the rally in Washington D.C. on June 17, 2003. A national rally and press conference to Preserve Civil Rights under IDEA for Students with Disabilities for parents, students, and advocates has been organized for June 17, 2003 from 1:00pm to 2:30pm at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Room G50. For more information on the East Coast contact Sue Hetrick at 866-885-5733 or by email shetrick@abilitycenter.org

2. Call or email your United States Senators. To send an email directly to your U.S. Senators, use the Legislative Action Center. If you need help contacting your Senators please call 412-995-5000 x509. Please refer to the sample letter below and include specific examples of how this legislation will affect your family.

Thank you for your help. Legislative offices count every call and email, so you will make a difference! Please let us know about your contacts with elected officials so that we can monitor progress on important pieces of legislation.

Please direct questions and/or comments to:
Candy Smith
Director, Family Supports
The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh
711 Bingham Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15203
412-995-5000x513
csmith@achieva.info
www.achieva.info/familysupports

Senator Sample Letter

Dear Senator,
Upon your return from the break, you will be voting on a bill to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee is expected to craft a bipartisan bill in early June. This bill is expected to be a huge improvement over the seriously flawed House bill, H.R. 1350, the Improving Education Results for Children with Disabilities Act of 2003, which reauthorizes the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

H.R. 1350 will affect our nations 6.5 million students with disabilities. This bill jeopardizes educational quality for the most vulnerable children in our public schools. In this era of "Leave No Child Behind," the House is proposing to do just that: to leave behind children with disabilities. H.R.1350, as reported by the Education and the Workforce Committee, is not good policy. In my opinion, the bill is a bad IDEA, primarily because it strips vital protections for students with disabilities and their parents. It also gives school authorities wide latitude to discipline students with disabilities without considering those disabilities.

The House version of the bill puts a cap on IDEA funds to states – limiting the funds to cover only the first 13.5 percent of students in the state with disabilities. The bill jeopardizes the rights of students with disabilities and their families. For parents of such students who may have concerns about their children's education, the bill creates a maze of procedures and requirements. New provisions regarding student discipline will lead to the segregation of many students with disabilities and more, not less, litigation. Incredibly, the bill does not require school systems to take the child’s disability into account when making disciplinary decisions.

(Insert personal story here)

I strongly urge you to support an IDEA reauthorization bill that is bipartisan, protects children with disabilities, enhances their educational opportunities, and fully funds all components of this vital law.

Sincerely,

Name
Address
Phone Number

June 9, 2003

This alert is from Achieva (the Arc of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania). Please, please write your Senators.

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