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IDEA Reauthorization: Sample Letter with
Background Info & References

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Negotiations between the House and Senate to reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are taking place now. These negotiations may be completed this week.

On Monday, November 15, the House and Senate will return to Washington for a lame duck session. If negotiations are completed, Congress may pass the bill to reauthorize the IDEA during the lame duck session. After the President signs the bill, it will be law.

The House and Senate versions of the IDEA bill weaken some rights that exist in the current IDEA. This may be our last chance to preserve protections that students with disabilities have under current federal law.

Please write letters to the congressional aides who are working on this bill. (see sample letter below). Our Children Left Behind provided sample letters. Wrightslaw revised these letters into a master letter with background information and references on the issues.

Your Name
Your Address

Name of Representative or Senator

   Re: Protect the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Dear Senator / Representative _____________(NAME):

My name is ________________. I am the parent of __________, who is ____ years old and receives special education services because he/she has _______________. (Personal comments ______________________).

I am also writing on behalf of _______ and for millions of children with disabilities across America. I ask you to resist pressures to turn back the clock on educating children with disabilities. Please do not allow changes that will weaken the IDEA, and reduce my _____ (relationship) chances of leading a productive, independent life.

When Congress reauthorized the IDEA in 1997, they found that "Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency." 20 U.S. Sec. 1400(c)(1)

Congress also found that "implementation of this Act has been impeded by low expectations, and an insufficient focus on applying replicable research on proven methods of teaching and learning for children with disabilities." 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1400(c)(4) (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, page 19-23)

The purposes of the IDEA are to:

* ensure that children with disabilities have a free appropriate public education that is . . . designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for employment and independent living;
* ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents are protected;
* ensure that educators and parents have the necessary tools to improve educatonal results for children with disabilities;
* assess and ensure the effectiveness of efforts to educate children with disabilities. 20 USC Sec 1400(d) (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, page 24)

As you consider changes to the Individuals with Disabilities Act, please ask yourself if these changes will prepare children with disabilities for "employment and independent living."

The issue(s) I am most concerned about are (pick one or two):

* Research based Instruction

Nearly 30 years after Congress enacted Public Law 94-172, special education outcomes are still poor. The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) recently published "exiting data" for the 2002-2003 school year. Less than 50% of students with disabilities graduated with a high school diploma.

Graduated: 39.4%
Dropped out: 20.5% or 48.5%
[Source: Feds Publish Info on Graduation Rates ]

Nothing in the proposed bills to reauthorize the IDEA will improve these poor outcomes. If Congress does not require schools and school districts to use IDEA funds on research based instructional methods and strategies, these outcomes are unlikely to improve.

Including a requirement in IDEA that schools use federal funds for research based instruction would also make the IDEA more consistent with requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act.

* Eliminating IEP Benchmarks and Short Term Objectives

According to Appendix A to the special education regulations, "Measurable annual goals, including benchmarks or short-term objectives, are critical . . . [and] enable parents, students and educators to monitor progress during the year and, if appropriate, to revise the IEP . . . according to the student's instructional needs." (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, pages 209-224)

Now Congress is proposing to eliminate these "critical" IEP components. If Congress eliminates short-term objectives and benchmarks, how will parents and teachers know if a child is making acceptable progress? How will eliminating IEP benchmarks and short-term objectives prepare children with disabilities for employment and independent living?

* Access to Legal Representation / Forcing Parents to Pay School District's Attorney Fees

Few attorneys practice special education law. When parents need advice about whether or how to request a due process hearing, many have great difficulty finding an attorney to represent them. The House bill to reauthorize IDEA allows governors to set fees for parent attorneys. This will have a chilling effect on the ability of parents to obtain legal representation.

A provision that would force parents and their lawyers to pay school district attorney fees will have the effect of slamming the door on the majority of parents who rely on the fee-shifting provisions of IDEA for access to legal representation.

* Short Statute of Limitations

A short statute of limitations gives school districts a powerful incentive to hide and minimize problems. Parents who are aware of their rights and their children’s needs will be pushed into litigation because negotiating could lead to a forfeiture of claims.

* Expelling & Suspending Children with Behavior Problems

The current IDEA requires IEP teams to use "positive behavioral interventions, strategies, and supports to address problem behavior. (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, page 64; pages 74-76)

The House bill would give schools the power to change placements unilaterally if a child allegedly violates any rule in a school “code of conduct” (HR 1350). This will create incentives for schools and districts to change children's placements for their own convenience.

This is not a new problem. In Honig v. Doe, the U. S. Supreme Court issued a decision on behalf of two students who were expelled for dangerous or disruptive "disability related misconduct." (1988). The Court described "Congress' unquestioned desire to wrest from school officials their former unilateral authority to determine the placement of emotionally disturbed children." (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, page 329-342)

You have the power and the responsibility to ensure that our children’s rights and futures are protected. Please use your influence to ensure that when IDEA is reauthorized, the law remains strong. Thank you.


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