A brief set of frequently asked questions and answers are provided for people interested in having a broad understanding of some of the changes in IDEA'97.
1. How will the new law help children with disabilities reach higher levels of achievement?
The 1997 Individuals With Disabilities Education Act which will be signed into law by President Clinton aims to strengthen academic expectations and accountability for the nation's 5.4 million children with disabilities, and bridge the gap that has too often existed between what those children learn and the regular curriculum.
From now on, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) -- the plan that spells out the educational goals for each child and the services he will receive for his education -- must relate more clearly to the general curriculum that children in regular classrooms receive.
The law will also require regular progress reports to parents, include children with disabilities in state and district assessments and in setting and reporting on performance goals as they do for non-disabled children.
Teachers will benefit from advancements in research through professional development initiatives.
2. What about parents? How are parents involved in decisions about their child's education?
Parental involvement will increase under the new law. In all states, parents will now be included in groups making eligibility and placement decisions about children with disabilities. Previously, in some states, parents only had a right to be included in IEP meetings. Parents also have a right to consent to periodic re-evaluations of their children's program, in addition to initial evaluations.
Currently, parents of children with disabilities rarely get regular reports from schools on their child's progress in achieving academic goals set forth in the IEP. The new law aims to increase parental involvement by requiring regular progress reports, that are commonly made for other children.
3. Will more children with disabilities be placed in regular classroom settings under the law?
The new law is designed to remove financial incentives for placing children in more separate settings when they could be served in a regular classroom, and it will include regular classroom teachers in the meetings at which the academic goals of children with disabilities are set.
The new law also eases some of the restrictions on how IDEA funding can be used for children served in regular classrooms. Specifically, such funds can be used for providing services to children with disabilities in regular classroom settings even if non-disabled children benefit as well.
4. How does the new law change the roles and responsibilities of regular classroom teachers?
A critically important feature of the new law specifies that regular teachers will be part of the team that develops each child's IEP. That is especially important since the law removes barriers to placing disabled children in regular classroom settings and ties the education of children with disabilities more closely to the regular education curriculum.
The law requires that IEP's include the program modifications and supports for the child and teacher to enable the child to succeed in the classroom.
The law also provides continued federal support to improve teacher training nationwide, and adds support of teacher training programs in geographic areas with acute teacher shortages.
5. How will IDEA 97 prevent inappropriate placements for minority children?
Whether the child is a minority student or not, IDEA 97 emphasizes that for most children with disabilities, special education is not a place. Rather, special education is a set of services to support the needs of children with disabilities to succeed in general education classrooms.
For the first time, states will be required to gather data to ensure that school districts are not disproportionately identifying and placing children with disabilities from minority or limited English proficiency backgrounds in separate educational settings, and that such children are not being disproportionately suspended or expelled. In addition, in determining their education services, schools will be required to address the language needs of students who have limited English proficiency. Teachers will be provided training and research based knowledge to meet the special needs of these children.
6. How will this law help school districts meet the costs of special education?
The new law directs more federal dollars to school districts and allows them greater flexibility to meet the needs of children with disabilities in their schools. States and other public agencies will continue their level of support to school districts. Unnecessary assessments will be eliminated, saving school districts an estimated $765 million per year.
7. How does IDEA promote safe, well-disciplined schools?
All children deserve safe and well-disciplined schools. For the first time, the new law sets out and clarifies how school disciplinary rules and the obligation to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education to disabled children fit together.
The law explicitly requires that children who need it receive instruction and services to help them follow the rules and get along in school.
However, the law also recognizes that if students bring a weapon or illegal drugs to school, schools have the right to remove children with disabilities to an alternative educational setting for up to 45 days. The new law permits schools to go to a hearing officer for an injunction to remove a child for up to 45 days if the child is considered substantially likely to injure himself or others. Previously, only a court had that authority. And the law also recognizes the right of schools to report crimes to law enforcement or judicial authorities.
At the same time, the law guarantees that children under suspension or expulsion would still receive special education services elsewhere.
8. How does the law affect infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with disabilities?
The law allows federal funding to rise to $400 million for infants and toddlers programs from current appropriations of $315 million. For preschoolers allowable funding is up to $500 million up from current spending of $360 million. It clarifies that infants and toddlers should receive services in the home or in other natural settings where possible. It also improves the coordination and transition for children from infant and toddler programs to pre-school programs.
9. Will these changes and new requirements affect the number of lawsuits and due process hearings by parents and legal bills for school districts?
When parents and schools districts collaborate on children's education, conflict is minimized. IDEA 97 recognizes and encourages these positive relationships and non-adversarial methods of resolving disputes. The new law includes parents in placement decisions and requires schools to report regularly to parents on their child's progress.