Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2003

For Immediate Release — June 24, 2003

For Further Information, Please Contact:

Julia Epstein, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)
(510) 644-2555 (work); (510) 406-4048 (mobile)

Many Improvements but Ongoing Concerns

Washington D.C. — The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the most important civil rights law ever passed for children with disabilities in the United States. IDEA was reauthorized and strengthened in 1997.  The law is again up for reauthorization and faces substantial threats. The House of Representatives passed a bill, HR 1350, on April 30, 2003 making sweeping changes that weaken services and protections for students with disabilities.

The bill then moved to the Senate, where on June 12, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee introduced a bi-partisan bill that improves greatly on the House bill.  The senate bill seeks balanced compromises for many complex issues. Staff members of the HELP Committee leadership, Senators Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA), listened to comments from constituents last week, and the HELP Committee markup and vote will occur on Wednesday June 25, 2003.

S. 1248 makes several improvements to IDEA that will result in students with disabilities meeting higher standards and achieving greater educational results. These provisions include:

Positive Behavior Supports
The bill takes pro-active steps so that students receive the supports they need to manage their behavior. The bill also provides funding to schools to expand behavior supports and whole school behavior interventions.
Alternate Assessments
The bill successfully addresses the need for states to do more around alternate assessments.
School to Life Transition
The bill includes several provisions to increase the success of special education students who transition from school post-secondary education or employment. Specific requirements are added to the Rehabilitation Act and the bill strengthens the transition provisions of the Individualized Education Plan.
The bill considers the “highly qualified” provisions of No Child Left Behind and applies them to special education teachers. It strengthens and expands personnel preparation and personnel development authorities for both special education personnel and general educators.

Despite these improvements, the Senate bill contains several provisions of concern. They include:

Short-term Objectives
The bill removes short-term objectives or benchmarks from a student’s Individualized Education Plan and replaces them with a statement of the student’s progress toward annual goals that includes quarterly reports. This new process will make it more difficult for parents and schools to measure student progress. Moreover, this provision may actually increase the paperwork requirements of IDEA.
Limitations on Due Process Protections
The bill limits due process protections for students with disabilities. Specifically, the bill’s opportunity to cure provisions are unnecessary and will in some, if not many, instances be used to coerce parents into giving up their children’s due process rights (especially as parent’s attorneys will most likely not be present at the meeting.) The provision is unnecessary because current law already gives districts opportunities to resolve problems.
Statute of Limitations
The bill also establishes a statute of limitations for due process claims. This provision is problematic for several reasons. Parents do not have ready access to lawyers and legal information and often do not know their rights. In some cases, districts promise to fix problems and parents who do not want to “rock the boat” wait before filing a due process hearing request. In addition, the bill restricts the authority that hearing officers have to make decisions on procedural violations, so that districts will have greater incentives to fail to provide proper notice and other important parent/student procedural rights. This would make the statute of limitations even more unfair to parents.
Monitoring and Enforcement
Among the most important issues to parents and disability advocates is the effective implementation and enforcement of IDEA. While the Senate bill makes improvements in these areas, it leaves too many major decisions to the U.S. Department of Education. For example, the bill does not define what constitutes substantial non-compliance, nor does it set specific benchmarks that are the same from state to state. The bill does not include Part C in the monitoring and enforcement activities. Finally, the bill does not set sanctions that cannot be influenced by policymakers.
The Senate bill redirects the research function from the Office of Special Education Programs to the Institute for Education Science. IES has not yet been established and has no track record in special education research. Moreover, this move will increase the disconnect between research and practice.
S. 1248 enables local education agencies to funnel IDEA funds to non-IDEA activities when states have never effectively met their obligations to students with disabilities and the law has never been fully funded.

Based in Berkeley, California, DREDF is a non-profit law and policy center nationally recognized for its expertise in the interpretation of disability rights laws.  Staffed and Board-run by persons with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities, DREDF is involved in education, policy, and advocacy efforts dedicated to protecting and advancing the civil rights of adults and children with disabilities.