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Journal Issue: Special Education for Students with Disabilities Volume 6 Number 1 Spring 1996

Special Education for Students with Disabilities: Analysis and Recommendations
Donna L. Terman Mary B. Larner Carol S. Stevenson Richard E. Behrman

Are the IDEA's Procedural Protections Necessary?

Students with disabilities have needs that have not been met in the typical classroom. Providing supplemental services is expensive and presents challenging budget issues to local school districts. Students with unusual, persistent educational problems often need advocates to ensure that schools provide them with appropriate services. The IDEA's procedural protections were designed to enable parents to be effective advocates for their children. Not only do parents have a unique concern for their child, but in most instances, they are the primary repository of information about the child's medical condition, academic history, behavioral patterns, and responses to previous interventions.

While parents want the best for their individual child, school districts must deal with pressing budgetary constraints and must balance the needs of all students in the district. These different perspectives frequently conflict. The IDEA's procedural protections have been designed to encourage cooperation and the development of mutually agreeable plans for individual children. The IDEA requires that parents of students with disabilities be notified, informed, given full opportunity for involvement, and consent to all evaluations and change in services or placement. If the school district and parents are unable to agree, either may appeal to an impartial hearing officer or ultimately to the federal courts. These procedures are described by Martin, Martin, and Terman in this journal issue.

Ideally, the parent and school will agree upon services to meet the child's needs. In practice, the time allocated for discussing the child's needs and developing an individualized education program (IEP) is often short, parties are sometimes not well informed, parental input may not be sought or considered, and parents or school officials sometimes have unreasonably high or low expectations for the child.49 There is no shortage of anecdotes about parents demanding extensive, possibly unnecessary, evaluations or services, or, at the other extreme, about school districts refusing to provide important services.

Despite the challenges of conflicting interests and shortages of time and money, most parents and schools do agree to individualized education programs. While some people may be accused of "taking advantage of the system," the numbers appear to be small, relative to the 3 million to 5 million students helped each year by the IDEA.

The requirements of parental information, involvement, and consent are important and should be retained. At the same time, parents need a source of information about their rights and an impartial analysis of reasonable goals and services for their child. Currently, the IDEA provides information and consultations for parents through at least one parental resource center in every state. Such services are greatly needed.

RECOMMENDATION

 

  • The IDEA's procedural protections are critically necessary and should be retained. Additionally, parental resource centers should be maintained.