What's the Big IDEA?

The 2004 Reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act means big changes for all of us.

Op-Ed by Leeanne Seaver

Every reauthorization does its part to shed light on certain areas of special education policy, while clouding other aspects of the IDEA and its implementation beyond recognition. The 2004 Reauthorization is no exception. It see-saws so wildly between enlightenment and confusion that Dramamine should be served before each IEP meeting as we all try to make sense of it.

Special Education has an expanded purpose.

The mandate of this title is now "to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education (2004), employment and independent living."

Selected highlights briefly stated:

  • More alignment with the No Child Left Behind Act, including a new provision to allow IDEA funds to be used for activities required under NCLB.
  • Highly Qualified Teachers w/o the emergency/temporary/provisional waivers & Spec. Educators certified in special ed. plus qualified in content areas.
  • Complaints must be limited to a violation that occurred not more than 2 years before the date the parent or school knew/should have known about the alleged action, and full explanations must be provided by the filing party.
  • Strengthening the role and responsibility (new term) of parents
  • "Medical device that is surgically implanted or the replacement of such device" is excepted from the definition of an assistive technology device. (Sec. 602 (1)(B); This means cochlear implants now fall outside the definition of an ATD.
  • Present level of educational performance is now "present levels of academic achievement and functional performance." Will this promote a more holistic look at the student?
  • Evaluation Procedures require the gathering of "academic" information & that the "language and form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally, and functionally, unless it is not feasible to do so" rather than in the child's native language" (Sec. 615(b)).
  • Transition Services must be addressed in the IEP applicable to the year the student turns 16, (not 14) and must include "appropriate measurable post secondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessments relating to training, education, employment, and where appropriate, independent living skills" Transition services, including courses of study, needed to assist a child in reaching those goals must be included in the IEP.
  • Procedural Safeguards distributed less -once annually, or at the initial referral or request for evaluation, upon filing a complaint, or at the request of the parent.
  • Parents can initiate a request for an initial evaluation , which must be completed within 60 calendar days (unless state regs require a tighter timeframe).
  • The Determination of Eligibility must also serve as an evaluation of the Educational Needs of the student.
  • Parents must approve in writing the absence of any required member of the IEP team.
  • When a student graduates, the school (but not necessarily the IEP team, so this'll be interesting) must provide a summary of his/her academic achievement and functional performance, which will include recommendations on how to assist a child in meeting the child's post secondary goals." (Sec. 614(c)(b)(B)(ii)
  • IEP services & supplementary aids must be qualified with "based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable".
  • Parents & school IEP teams can agree to change an IEP w/o convening a full staffing via the "amended IEP" although which types of alterations qualify for this shortcut/convenient procedure may be debatable, and who has the authority to decide is also unclear.

If you are unimpressed by any of the aforementioned changes to the status quo, then draw on your steely reserve to remain calm in the face of this legislated train wreck:

  • Benchmarks or short-term objectives have been deleted as IEP requirements; now only required for students taking alternative assessments (approximately one percent of all students with IEPs).

The bucolic ignorance of eliminating short-term goals is allegedly an attempt to lighten the paperwork burden of the teachers. (I haven't talked to a teacher yet who thinks this is the answer.) It'll certainly accomplish that in spades, because without these objectives to guide the daily implementation of an IEP, there will be no progress to report "concurrent with the issuance of report cards" (Sec. 614(d)(1)(A)(i)(III)) for all students throughout the school year. That savings alone means one less sheet of paper for every student with an IEP at least six to nine times a year! We can only hope that the thought of trees spared will provide a measure of comfort when the anxiety of floundering underachievement overwhelms us. Given that FAPE ("free and appropriate public education") itself is determined by each student's individual, measurable progress, where does this leave us? Any IEP team who derails a child on this track deserves the lawsuit headed like a locomotive straight for them.

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