April 15, 2003 --
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is up for re-authorization, and many disability rights and parents' groups oppose the current versions in the House. H.R. 1350 "will harm the nation's 6.5 million children with disabilities affected by IDEA," says the National Committee of Parents Organized to Protect IDEA, a bipartisan group of parents and advocates. (http://www.nationalparentcenters.org/alerts.htm) The House unveiled the 282-page "Improving Education Results for Children with Disabilities Act of 2003" in late March. Two weeks later it cleared the Subcommittee on Educational Reform and last week went to the Committee on Education and the Workforce. Another bill, H.R. 1373, was introduced on Mar. 20. Read a summary of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund/People for the American Way report on the Florida program used as a model for this bill at http://www.jfanow.org/cgi/getli.pl?1690 The model, which uses school vouchers, "would only lead the nation's parents,
students and teachers down a dangerous path," says the report.
The National Council on Disability has also issued a report on school vouchers and students with disabilities. "IDEA's rights, as a general rule, will not extend to children and youth with disabilities who participate in voucher programs," says NCD. That report is online at http://www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/vouchers.html
Advocates are concerned that the reauthorization will offer schools the option of three-year "Individualized Education Programs" -- IEPs ("Three-year IEPs do not provide adequate accountability for measuring the progress of students," says the National Parent Center.) and worry that there is still no requirement for mandatory funding. The IDEA has never received the 40 percent federal funding promised by Congress at the law's inception in 1975. And current re-authorization proposals give schools unilateral authority to remove students with disabilities from schools, say advocates, without considering the relationship of the disability to the behavior. "H.R. 1350 undoes key protections for children with disabilities who are being disciplined," says DREDF. "The bill allows schools to unilaterally expel any child whom it determines to have violated any school 'code of conduct,' regardless of severity, and to place the child in an alternative interim setting for up to 45 days. Under this provision, a student could be expelled for chewing gum, shouting out in class, or carrying a plastic eating utensil in their lunch box."
Read alerts and updates on the status of re-authorization of IDEA at http://www.dredf.org -- scroll down the home page to "DREDF Launches IDEA Rapid Response Network" and click on the alerts. To be on an e-mail list for Rapid Response Network, send an email to preserveIDEA@dredf.org with name and contact information.
More information and alerts are available from the Pacer Center at http://www.pacer.org/
Keep Kids Learning -- http://www.keepkidslearning.org -- provides a way to contact elected officials.