Senate & House Committee Vote YES to Reauthorize IDEA 2004

by Leeanne Seaver

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:

  • Among the changes to this law is the new language added to the "Purpose" of special education.  Whereas the original intention of IDEA was to prepare students with special needs for "employment and independent living", IDEA 2004 goes further to include "further education" as a goal.  This has been a long-anticipated welcome addition to the purpose of this law.
  • Of interest to the cochlear implant constituency, the legal definition for "Assistive Device" was not changed, but a caveat that delineates that this "term does not include a device that is medically implanted, or the replacement of such a device" was added under "Exceptions."
  • "Interpreting services" has been added to the list of "Related Services" as a support service.  
  • The impact of the No Child Left Behind Act has been felt as new language in IDEA 2004 attempts to align its vocabulary with NCLB.  For example, incorporation of the NCLB term, "Highly Qualified Teachers", (HQT), is seen.  
  • The section that addresses the process by which parents can enroll their children in private schools has been rewritten, and changes will affect what the LEA (lead educational agency) obligations to this group are.
  • Regarding tests and evaluations, the LEA must now assure that the child is assessed in "the language or form most likely to yield accurate information" (replacing this language: in "the child's native language or other mode of communication."
  • Your child's current IEP must have a statement of annual goals, "including benchmarks and short term objectives", but IDEA 2004 removes that language in favor of, "including academic and functional goals."  Parents must remain diligent to have written into their child's IEP some language that provides for the measurement of progress towards goals-based on the same schedule that progress for typical students is reported.
  • If the required representation of someone at the IEP meeting is "excused", it can only be done so through mutual consent by the parent and school, and the parent's agreement to excuse someone whose presence is legally required (example: "not less than one general education teacher") must be obtained by the school in writing.
  • The Procedural Safeguard requirement of "Prior Notice" of parental rights has been limited to once a year.
  • Schools may recover attorney fees from the parent and/or attorney for the parent in the case of lawsuits filed that are "frivolous, unreasonable and without foundation" that could needlessly delay or add cost to litigation.
  • Much more direction and expanded language has been added to the Complaint and Due Process procedures.

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

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