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 Home > News  > IDEA Updates > IDEA Talking Points (September 3, 2003)


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IDEA Talking Points

In September, the Senate is likely to consider bills to water down the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The House of Representatives already passed a bill gutting the IDEA. Now, it’s the Senate’s turn to consider its bill, S. 1248. The current Senate bill, S. 1248, protects kids better than the House bill, but still waters down the rights of disabled children. Amendments to water it down even more are expected in September. The Senate Republican Policy Committee has urged Senators to replace the Senate bill with the much worse House bill (H.R. 1350). The American Academy of Pediatrics, Children's Defense Fund, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, and others believe the House bill will hurt disabled kids.

Learn about the issues and contact your Senators now (go to http://www.senate.gov or call your Senators, 202-224-3121). School districts have been lobbying hard--with paid lobbyists--and parents are not being heard. Let your Senators hear you. Send an email or fax today and send this information to others.

Key Issues

* Efforts To Prevent The No Child Left Behind Act From Applying To Children With Disabilities

Senator Lamar Alexander (TN) plans to introduce a bill that would let schools not count scores from kids with disabilities to determine NCLB compliance. This will result in two tracks: kids whose scores are counted and get the services they need to improve academics and pass the tests; and kids in special education whose scores are not counted and don't get services.

* Discipline

Under the current IDEA, kids who are dangerous or sell drugs can be removed from the classroom. But, the House would let schools exclude children from the classroom for any school conduct code violations, even if the misbehavior was caused by their disabilities or they didn't understand what they did wrong, such as diabetic kids who eat in class, kids with autism or ADHD who jump up, don't raise their hands, etc.; children who act out because they can't communicate.

Drop out rates are high for kids moved to alternative settings. This is a backdoor way for teachers who don't want mainstreamed kids to get them out of the classroom–something they can't do right now. The Senate bill lets kids stay in the classroom if the disability caused misbehavior, but the Senate Republican Policy Committee wants the Senate to take the House approach.

The Senate bill would let schools to put children in alternative settings if the SCHOOL DECIDES the misbehavior DID NOT result from the disability, even if a hearing officer reverses the school. The school, not the parents, decide. GAO studies show that there is no good data to justify changing the current discipline rules in the IDEA.

Proposed Changes May Be a Back Door To Avoid The No Child Left Behind Act

Schools don't have to count test scores of kids who were not in the same school for an entire year, so schools have an incentive to move kids to alternative placements, even if they know that a hearing officer will later rule that the decision was wrong.

The Senate recognizes that disabled children should meet the same educational expectations as other children "to the maximum extent possible" while the House bill would only give them access to the general curriculum, meaning opening schoolhouse doors but providing inferior educations. Tell your Senators to keep the Senate language and reject H.R. 1350's section 602(8)(c).

Eliminates short-term objectives and benchmarks from IEPs

Short-term objectives and benchmarks are important markers that help school districts fix problems during the year.

The House would allow 3-year IEPs. And the House would get rid of short-term objectives and benchmarks except for the most severely disabled children.

The Senate bill will get rid of short-term objectives, but require schools to give parents reports on IEP progress when they give report cards. This is not good enough.

Short-term objectives and benchmarks help schools to measure a child's progress, and increases school accountability. This is a critical tool for parents, teachers and therapists. Short-term objectives provide clear expectations of what needs to be achieved during the school year. When parents and teachers see that the child isn't meeting the short-term objectives, they will know that the annual goal won't be met without taking action. Isn't it better to take action during the school year to fix the problem instead of waiting until May or June to find out that your child isn't progressing?

No Child Left Behind testing is not a substitute for short-term objectives, because the tests only cover academic subjects; they have nothing to do with to speech, physical, social, or behavior goals that so many of our kids have in their IEPs. And, for children with severe disabilities that would not take the NCLB tests, there will be no accountability under the Senate bill.

Eliminates Important Procedural Protections for Parents

The bills, particularly the House bill, will eliminate important procedural protections that level the playing field for children and schools (the House bill, which the Senate Republican Policy Committee supports, is a one-sided bill for school districts. There will likely be efforts to amend the Senate bill to eliminate these protections).

Parents would have difficulty learning their children's rights and IEP meetings could be amended by meeting with the principal, not all of your teachers and therapists and other important changes.

Limits or Eliminates Recovery of Attorneys Fees by Parents

Amendments to limit the amount parents can recover in attorneys fees if a judge finds that the school district violated the law. The House bill lets state officials cap the rate as low as they want and the Senate Republican Policy Committee has asked Senators to adopt this cap. No limits are proposed on how much school districts can spend on their legal fees from your tax dollars.

Eliminates Requirements for Functional Behavior Assessments & Behavior Intervention Plans

Both the Senate and House bills would eliminate requirements for Functional Behavior Assessments and Behavioral Intervention Plans. T
hese analyses determine what made a child misbehave so that positive behavioral supports can be used.

Eliminates Essential Paperwork

All Paperwork requirements could be eliminated for 10 states, according to the House bill and Senate Republican Policy Committee.

This could mean eliminating written IEPs, Prior Written Notice, Information for Parents about Rights, and even Progress Reports. This could make the IDEA unenforceable and get rid of school accountability. Tell the Senate to reject amendments that would allow this.

No Full Funding

Both House and Senate bills only partially fund the IDEA, instead of funding it in full, as Congress had promised. Not only will there not be enough money for children with disabilities, but school districts will be allowed to divert the IDEA money they get for other projects, taking the money that is intended for disabled kids. If your child is receiving therapy or services in large groups or can't get an aide or equipment they need, tell your Senators about this!

For a more complete analysis and description of each of these points, go to http://www.geocities.com/protectidea (It also includes links to statements by organizations about the IDEA bills)

Other good sources of information are

http://www.wrightslaw.com/news/idea2002.htm

http://schwablearning.org/articles.asp?g=2&r=728 (short-term objectives)

http://www.ourchildrenleftbehind.com

http://www.dredf.org/

CONTACT YOUR SENATORS NOW - please do not delay.

You can find your Senators at http://www.Senate.gov and get their email, phone (local and Washington DC), and fax numbers. You can also call the main Senate and House number, 202-224-3121 or look up local numbers in the blue pages of your phone book.

Please send email or fax. Do not send regular mail because anthrax screening will delay letters for up to 3 weeks. A fax is taken more seriously because it is harder to do than email. An email is good, especially if you call the Senator's office to follow up.

Be sure to include your full address in correspondence. Senate office computers reject emails without zip codes from in-state. (Members of the House can be found at http://www.house.gov)

It is not enough to sign petitions about the IDEA. Congressional offices only pay attention to correspondence from their own constituents. They virtually ignore petitions. So, please send your own email!

Strategies

Remember that you are trying to convince your Senators to adopt a good IDEA. You won't convince them by attacking political parties or suggesting that there would be more money for IDEA if less money or attention was spent on other things which you oppose. This is not the time to vent about other policies.

Since you may be asking Republican Senators to go against the recommendation from their own policy committee, its probably not a good idea to attack Republicans or their party. Far better to just say that the Senate Republican Policy Committee wants X and this is a bad idea for Y reason.

Get your friends and family members to write emails and faxes; you can even help grandma and grandpa write them. Tell your elected officials how important the IDEA is and that they should not water it down!

Sandy, Illinois (alpy2@aol.com)
Volunteer Co-Webmaster, www.ourchildrenleftbehind.com (IDEA reauthorization)


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