State “Hands are Tied” in Compliance with IDEA: Seriously?!

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In my experience, lack of enforcement of IDEA is an open invitation for the school district staff to create laws and rules on the fly.

The folks at our State Department of Education acknowledge that “our system is flawed and broken. Our hands are tied.” School districts should never have the option of using tax payer money to pay for attorneys to defend them when they do not comply with IDEA.

Your State Dept of Ed “acknowledges that ‘our system is flawed and broken [but] our hands are tied.’”

Who tied their hands? Seriously.

The IDEA outlines numerous procedural safeguards to protect children and allow their parents to be equal participants.

According to Section 1412 of IDEA, State Departments of Ed are responsible for supervising school districts and ensuring that children with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education.

20 U.S.C. 1412 – State Eligibility.
(a) In General. A State is eligible for assistance … if the State submits a plan that provides assurances to the Secretary that the State has in effect policies and procedures to ensure that the State meets each of the following conditions:

(A) In General – A free appropriate public education is available to all children with disabilities residing in the State between the ages of 3 and 21, inclusive, including children with disabilities who have been suspended or expelled from school.
. . . [20 U.S.C. 1412(a); page 71 in Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd ed.]

See also State Educational Agency Responsible for General Supervision.
(A) IN GENERAL- The State educational agency is responsible for ensuring that–
(i) the requirements of this part are met; and
(ii) all educational programs for children with disabilities in the State, including all such programs administered by any other State or local agency –
(I) are under the general supervision of individuals in the State who are responsible for educational programs for children with disabilities; and
(II) meet the educational standards of the State educational agency . . . [20 U.S.C. 1412(11); page 77 in Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd ed.]

The IDEA regs about enforcement are in Subpart F – State Monitoring and Enforcement [300.600-602; page 268 in Wrightslaw: Special Ed Law]

IDEA Compliance – Not a New Problem

Unfortunately, IDEA compliance problems are not new, nor are they isolated.

IDEA requires State Depts of Ed to monitor school district (LEA) compliance. When states do not ensure compliance, there are no sanctions, funds are not withheld by the feds.

In 2000, The National Council on Disability (NCD) published “Back to School on Civil Rights,” a report on enforcement and compliance with the IDEA. Based on its review of the DOE’s monitoring reports of states, NCD found that:

  • Every state was out of compliance with IDEA requirements to some degree;
  • in the sampling of states studied, noncompliance persisted over many years.

“During the 1997 reauthorization of IDEA, the “battle cry” of parents was enforcement of the law. Who is responsible for enforcing the law? Who is on the side of the parents and students?”

“Enforcement of the law is the burden of parents who must invoke formal complaint procedure and due process hearings, including expensive litigation, to obtain the appropriate services and supports their children are entitled under the law.”

NCD recommended that Congress turn enforcement of IDEA over to the Dept of Justice. When Congress reauthorized IDEA in 2004, they did not make this change. Parents and advocates need to shine a light on this problem when the law is reauthorized next time.

Summary of Findings from the IDEA Compliance Report:

TOC with links to chapters of the report:

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