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New federal law changes special education

Legal Brief   

Parents of children who attend school under an Individualized Education Program (IEP) should be aware of some substantial changes to federal special education laws that became effective this summer.

On July 1, 2005, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEIA) became the federal law governing special education.

The history of the IDEIA goes back to 1975, when Congress enacted the first federal law mandating education of children with disabilities, known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. That law was reauthorized in 1990 and 1997 and became known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).In response to questions that arose regarding the 1997 version of the IDEA, Congress again reauthorized the act in late 2004, under the new title of IDEIA (it is also referred to as IDEA 2004). Most of new law's provisions took effect on July 1.

While many existing special education laws remain unchanged under the IDEIA, others have been substantially revised. Parents and school staff should become familiar with how the law has affected their rights and responsibilities. Here are some of its provisions in two important categories, IEPs and transition services:

Some important aspects of IDEIA relate to the development, content, review and revision of a special education student's IEP. Some of the changes include:

  • If the parents and school district agree, changes can be made to an IEP during the school year without an IEP meeting. If an IEP is amended or modified without a meeting, those changes must be submitted in writing. The parents will be provided the revised IEP upon request.
  • Benchmarks and short-term goals are eliminated from IEPs unless the child can't participate in standardized tests.
  • An IEP must address academic achievement and functional performance through annual goals and a statement of the child's present level of performance.
  • Parents are provided periodic reports on the child's progress toward meeting the annual IEP goals.

Transition Services
As a child with an IEP approaches age 18, the school district provides services to assist him or her in transitioning out of the school system. The following are among the changes made by the IDEIA regarding how and when transition services are to be provided:

  • There is no longer transition planning for a child under age 16.
  • The transition plan must be addressed annually beginning at age 16.
  • The IEP of a child age 16 or older must include postsecondary goals related to training, education, employment and -- when appropriate -- independent living.
  • The IEP also must include a statement of transition services needed to assist the child in meeting those goals.

These are only some of the changes to special education made by the IDEIA. Other subjects that the law addresses include discipline procedures for students with special needs and procedures for resolving disputes between parents and the school district.

For more information about the IDEIA, visit www.k12.wa.us/SpecialEd/default.aspx or www.wrightslaw.com/idea/index.htm

Joshua L. Brothers is a Seattle-based attorney with the Dussault Law Group. His practice focuses on issues facing individuals with disabilities and their families.

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