Have you heard a lot about "the reauthorization" this fall? Did you have an in service on special education changes and new procedures? Does your director of special education or principal seem to be preoccupied with federal and state guidelines? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then you are experiencing the challenges that come from implementing significant federal legislation. How will this legislation affect the rights of your students with disabilities and your role as a teacher?
On June 4, 1997 President Clinton signed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 into law. In so doing, he said, " ...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. ...Since the (original) passage of IDEA, 90 percent fewer developmentally disabled children are living in institutions, hundreds of thousands of children with disabilities attend public schools and regular classrooms; three times as many disabled young people are enrolled in colleges and universities; twice as many young Americans with disabilities in their twenties are in the American workplace. We have to continue to push these trends, to do everything we can to encourage our children with disabilities not only to dream of doing great things but to live out their dreams. ...We are saying that we do not intend to rest until we have conquered the ignorance and prejudice against disabilities that disables us all." Clearly this legislation moves forward the American commitment to the educational opportunities for 5.8 million students with disabilities.
How will this legislation affect your role as a teacher? Both general and special education teachers can expect to work together to provide instruction in inclusive placements. A clear explanation of a student's strengths, learning needs, and goals must be developed by all who teach the student. Joint planning time to share observations, exchange materials, and adjust accommodations will be essential. General educators will be more closely involved in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process. Documentation of student progress and observations from both general and special education teachers are to be included in present levels of performance statements in IEPs. The presence of a general education teacher at IEP meetings is mandated when the student is included in general education placements. The amount and type of support offered to general educators is to be stipulated on the IEP.
Teachers will work more closely with parents. Student progress on IEP goals must be reported to parents with the same frequency as reports to parents of students without disabilities. Parent observations are to be incorporated into IEPs. Parents are voting members of the Eligibility Committee and must be included in placement decisions.
Where can you turn for help as you implement the new regulations? First, the Virginia Department of Education offers a number of services. You can find information about the IDEA reauthorization, and many other topics at the Department of Education web site. Technical assistance for interpreting state and federal regulations is provided by specialists. Personnel in Region 2 may contact Ms. Lissa Power-deFur at 804-225-2818 and personnel in Region 3 may contact Mr. David Aldrich at 804-225-2711. Second, T/TAC WM provides assistance in many ways. You can attend a regional workshop (see pages 4 and 5 for descriptions and registration), request small group consults at your site, or you can request information on a specific topic. Call the toll-free number at 1-800-323-4489, leave a message, and a T/TAC specialist will contact you.