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New federal law changes special education

Published on: September 01, 2005

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
  • Parents are provided periodic reports on the child's progress toward meeting the annual IEP goals.

Transition Services
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 or

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

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