Senate Committee Approves Mark-Up of Bill for IDEA Re-Authorization
A collective sigh of relief has been heard nationwide from parents and disability advocates after a Senate subcommittee unanimously approved mark-up of its kinder, gentler version of House Bill 1350 on June 25, 2003. Diana Jean Schemo of The New York Times reported that "after 18 months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, a Senate committee unanimously approved a bill reauthorizing educational services for the United States ' 6.5 million disabled students, assembling a bipartisan stand on issues including discipline of unruly students and a reduction in paperwork."
"The Senate bill preserves protections in current law for special-education children who misbehave in school, requiring schools to determine whether the misbehavior was related to a disability. If not, the school could send the child to an alternative program during a suspension. But the Senate bill repeals a current provision that lets a child remain in the original classroom while his family appeals the suspension order. It also shortens the deadline for rendering such a decision to 20 days from 45."
Improvements in the language of the bill support mechanisms to identify children who need extra help at younger ages. Also strengthened are its steps to help disabled teenagers with the transition to life after high school. The protections of disabled children relative to discipline are maintained in the Senate version. Under the House bill, schools could suspend or expel children who violate rules, without regard to their disabilities. However, these safeguards do not apply to students who take guns, drugs or other weapons into schools, and are subject to expulsion and other measures whether they have a disability or not.
The language of IDEA relative to our kids who are deaf or hard of hearing is found in Section 300.346, "Consideration of Special Factors". The Senate bill leaves this section unchanged from the 1997 Revised IDEA which required IEP teams to...
``(iv) consider the communication needs of the child, and in the case of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, consider the child's language and communication needs, opportunities for direct communications with peers and professional personnel in the child's language and communication mode, academic level, and full range of needs, including opportunities for direct instruction in the child's language and communication mode; and
``(v) consider whether the child requires assistive technology devices and services.
The intention of reducing paperwork, the highly controversial agenda of the House bill, has been revisited with greater sensitivity to student needs in the Senate bill. Here's how some of the House bill language has been revisited in the Senate version:
IEPs: Benchmarks/short term objectives are replaced with "a statement of how the child's progress toward the annual goals... will be measured, including through the use of quarterly or other periodic reports, concurrent with issuance of report cards, that delineate the progress the child is making toward meeting the annual goals."
Transition: Provides an option to develop a three-year IEP for students ages 18-21, to directly focus on parents and schools on long-term goals for helping students transition to post-secondary activities. Facilitates transition to post-secondary activities by focusing exit evaluations on recommendations to assist the child in meeting post-secondary goals. How will cooperation be assured with post-secondary organizations? We need to keep watching this section.
Evaluation: Allows for the development of new approaches to determine whether students have specific learning disabilities by clarifying that schools are not limited to using the IQ-achievement discrepancy model.
Discipline: Manifestation determination is back in. Special Circumstances- "Bodily Injury" has been added to weapons and drugs as the three exceptions to the stay-put rule. Hence, schools may unilaterally place a child in an interim alternative educational setting (IAES) for up to 45 school days if the child's conduct meets one of the three exceptions.
The Bad News: Unfortunately, the Senate bill did not address the one major question for every state and special education director and teacher: The amount of money the federal government will contribute to special education. While both Republicans and Democrats support full funding by 2009, the Republicans say they would like the federal contribution to be discretionary while the Democrats contend it should be mandatory.
Read the Bill in its entirety at the official site: http://health.senate.gov/bills/013 _bill.html . And while you're at it, here is a site to keeps tabs on the legislature: http://www. pacer.org/legislation/index.htm For a complete "nitpicker's" guide to the differences between the House and Senate Bills, check out: http://www.ourchildrenleftbehind.com/pages/4/index.html . This link will show the textual changes from the mark up bill from 6/25 and the first draft Senate bill. Julie Harmon of the PEAK Parent Center has provided some brief comments along with the corresponding ESEA (Elementary & Secondary Education Act) and NCLB (No Child Left Behind) codes when appropriate. Other good websites for related information include: http://health.senate.gov/calendars/all.html.