Individuals With Disabilities Education Act

School Districts' Response to Regulatory Deadline Gao ID: T-HEHS-98-156 April 22, 1998

In October 1997, the Department of Education issued proposed regulations to implement the 1997 amendments to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. The 1997 amendments made several changes to the individualized education programs (IEP)--a written statement that describes the child's educational performance, the goals for the child in the coming year, and the special education and support services that the child will receive to help meet those goals. The 1997 amendments required the participation of regular education teachers in developing the IEPs, beginning to plan for transition services when students reach age 14, and considering specific services, such as assistive technology. To ensure that all disabled students reaped the benefits of this new process as soon as possible, the Department of Education's proposed regulations would require school districts to update all students' IEPs to comply with the new requirements by July 1, 1998. In interviews with GAO, school district officials cited three major concerns about the July 1 deadline: (1) confusion because school districts had begun to implement the new IEP requirement without final federal and state regulations; (2) logistical challenges arising from the need to revise many IEPs within a short time period; and (3) concerns about the quality of the IEP process if it was done too quickly. GAO concludes that implementing these requirements within the proposed time frame may make it challenging for school districts to develop IEPs that are truly tailored to each student's needs with the resources available.

GAO noted that: (1) during its interviews, school districts related three major concerns about the July 1, 1998, deadline: (a) confusion and uncertainty because school districts had to begin implementing the new IEP requirements without final federal and state regulations; (b) logistical challenges arising from the need to revise many IEPs within a short time period; and (c) concern about the quality of the IEP process if it was done in too much of a hurry; (2) more specifically, district officials with whom GAO spoke with expressed concern about developing and revising IEPs without the benefit of final federal and state guidance; (3) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Education oversees the states, who assume the major portion of responsibility for ensuring that school districts comply with the law's requirements; (4) in some states, the state Department of Education prescribes specific forms and procedures to be used in the development of IEPs; (5) because the state forms and procedures had not yet been revised to fully reflect the new requirements, some district officials expressed confusion over what they need to do; (6) in one state, state officials told GAO that some districts were waiting for final federal and state regulations to begin implementation; as a result, the districts may be unable to meet the prescribed deadline; (7) officials from several school districts GAO visited viewed the July 1 deadline as unreasonable because of logistical difficulties; (8) for example, one special education director from a rural school district GAO visited called the deadline a procedural nightmare; (9) he told GAO that he would have to put other tasks aside to schedule and attend numerous IEP meetings over the next few months, and expects the district's costs for substitute teachers to increase because teachers will have to be excused from classes to attend these meetings; (10) other district superintendents and special education directors echoed these concerns; (11) revising a large number of IEPS within a short timeframe also raises concerns about the quality of the IEP process; and (12) as the blueprint for addressing the educational needs of a child with a disability, the IEP can be crucial to the child's success.

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