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Assisting families of children with special needs since 1978
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From PEATC Press, Spring 1997

President Signs Reauthorization of IDEA

by Joanne Mauger

President Clinton signed The IDEA Improvement Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-17) on June 4, 1997. In signing the Act the President said, "For 22 years now, the IDEA has been the driving force behind the simple idea we have heard restated and symbolized here today, that every American citizen is a person of dignity and worth, having a spirit and a soul, and having the right to develop his or her full capacities. Because of IDEA, disabled children all over America have a better chance to reach that capacity. And through IDEA, we recognize our common obligation to help them make the most of their God-given potential." In May, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 passed overwhelming in the House by a vote of 420 to 3 and in the Senate by a vote of 98 to 1.

Key provisions of IDEA for parents are:

Early Intervention -- Part H that authorizes the early intervention program for infants and toddlers with disabilities has become Part C in the reauthorized Act. It provides clear authority and incentives for States that are not currently serving at-risk infants and toddlers to do so. The Bill encourages the establishment of links between public and private organizations to identify and evaluate these children. Early intervention services are to be provided in a natural environment to the maximum extent possible. Recognizing staff shortages, Part C clarifies personnel standards and requires States to take steps to retrain or hire personnel that meet appropriate professional requirements as defined by the State.

Individual Education Plan (IEP) -- Part B, Section 614 of the Act, consolidates in one place all IEP provisions currently found in law, regulations, guidance and policies from the Department of Education. The Bill requires that the IEP team consider the strengths of the child and the concerns of the parents for enhancing the education of their child. The IEP is to be outcome based, including measurable annual goals, benchmarks and short-term objectives. "The purpose of the IEP is to tailor the education to the child; not tailor the child to the education." When a child’s behavior impedes his learning or that of others, the IEP must include positive behavioral intervention strategies and supports to address that behavior. "When a child with disabilities is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment, at least one regular education teacher is to be included on the IEP team."

Inclusion -- Woven throughout the Bill is inclusive language supporting the presumption that the ultimate goal is to educate children with disabilities in regular classes. "Once identified as being eligible for special education, the connection between special education and related services and the child’s opportunity to experience and benefit from the general education should be strengthened. Children eligible for special education are capable of participating in the general education to varying degrees with some adaptations and modifications."

Placement Decisions -- Parent participation in placement decisions is clarified as a right. The Local or State educational agency is required to ensure that the parents of a child with a disability are members of any group that makes decisions on the educational placement of their child. In the States where placement decisions are made separate from the IEP process, provisions must be made so that parents are included in the group making the placement decision.

Mediation -- The Bill "requires States to offer mediation as a voluntary option to parents and LEA’s as an initial process for resolving disputes." Mediation encourages parents and professionals to work in partnership to negotiate a mutually acceptable solution. It does not impede the parent’s right to due process if a resolution cannot be reached. The "stay put" provision remains in force during the process.

Developmental Delay -- States will be allowed to use "development delay" to identify children ages three through nine for services; this provision recognizes that the assessment of very young children is not very precise in nature. The intent is to help prevent locking a child into a potentially inappropriate or incorrect eligibility category and possibly reduce later referrals of children to special education.

Discipline -- If a child carries a weapon or is involved with drugs at school or at a school function, the school is permitted to order a change of placement for up to 45 days. Within 10 days of any disciplinary action, the IEP team must conduct a review limited in scope "to the behavior subject to disciplinary action." The Act provides standards to determine if the behavior was a "manifestation of the child’s disability."

"The IEP team determines: (1) in relationship to the behavior subject to disciplinary action, the child’s IEP and placement were appropriate, and special education and related services, and supplementary aids and services, and behavior intervention strategies were provided consistent with the child’s IEP and placement; (2) the child’s disability did not impair the ability of the child to understand the impact and consequences of the behavior subject to disciplinary action; and (3) the child’s disability did not impair the ability of the child to control the behavior subject to disciplinary action."

If this criterion is not met, the behavior is determined not to be a manifestation of the child’s disability and the school is permitted to apply the same disciplinary procedures applied to nondisabled students. Even if expelled the student must continue to receive services.

In cases involving a student who is seen as "substantially likely to injure himself or others," the school must prove "beyond a preponderance of evidence" that this is the case before making a change in placement.

Assessment -- "Children with disabilities must be included in State and district wide assessment of student progress with individual modifications and accommodations." The Act recognizes that "excluding children with disabilities from standard assessments has severely limited and in some cases prevented these children from continuing on to post secondary education." By July 1, 2000, States must develop alternative assessments for children who, even with accommodations, are unable to participate in standard assessment.

Transition -- Beginning at age 14, the student’s IEP requires a statement of the transition service needs for the child that focuses on courses of study. "The purpose is to focus attention on how a child’s educational program can be planned to help the child make a successful transition to his or her goals for life after secondary school." This provision augments the existing requirement for separate transition services beginning no later than age 16.

Majority Age -- To clarify what is required when a child with a disability attains the age of majority, "the IEP definition includes a statement that the child has been informed of his or her rights under Part B, if any, that will transfer to the child when he or she attains the age of majority." States will develop procedures for appointing the parent or another individual to represent the interest of the child when the child is considered incapable of making educational decisions.

Track implementation of IDEA on CEC's site,

8003 Forbes Place, Suite 310
Springfield, VA 22151
703-923-0010 (phone)
800-869-6782 (toll free)

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Content on this site was produced, in part, with grant funds from the U.S. Department of Education, under CFDA # 84.328M, #84.310A, and #84.235F. The content herein does not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Education, any other agency of the U.S. government, or any other source.

PEATC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to building positive futures for Virginia's children by working collaboratively with families, schools and communities in order to improve opportunities for excellence in education and success in school and community life. Our special focus is children with disabilities. You can reach PEATC by calling 703-923-0010 (Voice/TTY), or sending an e-mail to

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