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Congress changes special education laws.

On June 4, President Clinton signed amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These changes affect special education law in important ways. Many took effect at once; others will go into effect on July 1, 1998. Following is an outline of some major changes.

Changes now in effect:

School officials can place a child in a different educational setting for up to 45 days if she brings anything to school that can cause serious injury, or if she possesses or uses an illegal drug at school. But, the school must immediately follow up the change in placement with a behavioral assessment (or review any behavior plan).

A hearing officer can change a child's placement for up to 45 days if the child is likely to injure himself or another, despite the school's efforts to reduce that risk, if he goes back to his placement.

In either of the above cases, the child's IEP team must look for any link between the child's behavior and her disability. If the IEP team finds no link, a school can discipline the child under rules that apply to children without disabilities. But services to ensure a free, appropriate public education must continue. If the IEP team does link the child's behavior to her disability, the school must return the child to her placement -- unless her parents consent to a change.

Protections that apply to special education students may apply to a student in the discipline process (even if not yet found eligible for special education) if the school knew, or should have known, he should be eligible for special education.

Parents may find their attorney fee award reduced if they did not include all of the following information in their letter asking for a fair hearing: (a) the child's name and address, (b) the school name, (c) a description of the problem, and (d) a proposed resolution to the problem.

The law includes new related services called "orientation and mobility services."

Children in private schools may get limited school district funds for related services (like speech therapy). New, complex rules cover reimbursement of private school tuition.

School districts must include most special education students in regular performance assessments, with accommodations when needed. The state must develop guidelines for when to assess special education students' performance a different way.

Special education students in public Charter Schools have the same rights as special education students in other public schools.

If a noneducational agency responsible for providing services or equipment under an IEP does not do so, the local education agency must fulfill that obligation.

Assessments must:

(a) determine if a child qualifies for special education; and

(b) include data on the proposed IEP content, and on how the child will be involved and progress in the general curriculum.

More changes in IDEA laws will go into effect July 1, 1998

The IEP must contain statements setting out:

(a) Supplementary aids and services the school will provide to help the child in a regular placement;

(b) Program modifications or supports for school personnel that will involve the child and help her progress in the regular curriculum;

(c) Program modifications or personnel supports that will allow the child to participate in extracurricular and nonacademic activities;

(d) Modifications the child needs to take part in the regular district assessment process, or an explanation of why it is not appropriate and how they will assess the child;

(e) The location, frequency, and duration of services and modifications;

(f) How the school will measure the student's progress toward his goals;

(g) How and when the school will inform the student's parents of her progress; and

(h) Beginning at age 14, the IEP must contain statements about transition service needs focusing on courses of study.

A regular education teacher must attend the IEP meetings of any child who is, or may one day be, in a regular education environment.

A school district representative at IEP meetings must know the general education curriculum and district resources.

Positive behavior interventions must be part of the IEP process for any child whose behavior gets in the way of her learning or that of others.

School districts must set performance goals and indicators for special education students. Goals and indicators must be consistent with those set for all other students, to the maximum extent appropriate.

School districts must keep data on dropout and graduation rates of special education students, and on their performance under regular district assessment standards.

Protection & Advocacy, Inc., Newsletter, Issue 61, Fall 1997