Senate & House Committee Vote YES to Reauthorize IDEA 2004
For many who anticipated that the US Legislature would not act on the 2004 Reauthorization of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) during an election year, it came as a surprise that the House-Senate Conference Committee voted to accept the Conference Report and bill on November 17, 2004. Two days later, the House and Senate voted in favor of the proposed 2004 Reauthorization, and President Bush is expected to sign it into law within 10 days.
A compromise was reached between the kinder, gentler Senate bill and the harsher House version, which disability advocates had protested vehemently. Amidst a lot of speech-making, including Senator Ted Kennedy's "Children Have Hopes & Dreams" remarks, the bipartisan agreement was announced. Kennedy responded to parent concerns about the erosion of rights with the new version of the IDEA; "This bill is a workable compromise to be implemented with the interests of the children in mind."
Longtime deaf/hard of hearing advocate, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), believes that we must all remain diligent with our efforts to fight discrimination against students with disabilities. "The bigotry is still there and that is why strong measures are needed in IDEA," Harkin said, pointing out that IDEA is a civil rights bill.
The "Special Considerations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing" language included in the 1997 Reauthorization has not changed, but other new additions or language alterations will indeed impact our kids.
Changes that will affect our kids and families
Here are a few highlights:
According to Barbara Raimondo, J.D., legislative liason for the American Society for Deaf Children in Washington, DC, "Some good news is that the Part C program now includes sign language services and cued language services as services to be provided in the Infant and Toddler Program. Also, there is more flexibility in the "natural environment" provisions, which should give families better access to center-based programs. Generally, this IDEA focuses more on academic achievement than the previous IDEA, which is a good thing for our kids."
Once IDEA 2004 is signed into law, the writing of rules and regulations about its implementation begins. Periods of Public Comment will be open for interested individuals or groups to provide input to that process. Many aspects of the proposed bills for this Reauthorization have been hotly criticized by parents, so it's advisable to learn everything you can about this new legislation and how the changes are going to affect your child specifically. Hands & Voices recommends the thorough explanation of Pete and Pam Wright at www.wrightslaw.com.