NCD Letter to ED regarding IDEA State and Local Implementation Study

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July 11, 2019

Mark Schneider
Director of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES)
U.S. Department of Education
550 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024

Laurie VanderPloeg
Director of the Office of Special Education Programs
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20202-7100

Re:      Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) State and Local Implementation Study 2019

Dear Directors Schneider and VanderPloeg:

The National Council on Disability (NCD) is an independent federal agency charged with advising Congress, the President and other federal agencies on disability policy issues to advance the goals of the ADA, equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities.  On behalf of the NCD, I write to express our concerns and to advise on the proposed 2019 IDEA State and Local Implementation Study.

During the past twenty-one years, NCD has examined the implementation of the IDEA six times, making recommendations that would advance a more effective, aggressive, and meaningful federal approach to implementing this critical law, so that the nation’s commitment to effective education for children with disabilities would be fully realized.[1] Most recently, in 2018, NCD issued a report series on the implementation of the IDEA since its 2004 reauthorization.[2] The reports focused on: funding; federal monitoring and enforcement of IDEA compliance; segregation of students with disabilities; the Every Student Succeeds Act; and English learners and students from low-income families. The series highlights significant problems that students and parents experience in special education and make recommendations for improvement. Importantly, they were informed, in part, by parents of children with disabilities and those who work closely with them on ensuring that their children receive a free and appropriate public education.

It is through the lens of NCD’s substantial knowledge of the IDEA and issues about its implementation that we offer the following advice and recommendations on the Department’s proposed study.

First, it is essential that parents of children with disabilities are surveyed to obtain a complete picture of IDEA implementation. 

The stated purpose of this study is to “develop an up-to-date national picture of how states, districts, and schools are implementing IDEA in order to provide ED, Congress, and other stakeholders with knowledge that can inform the next reauthorization of IDEA and, ultimately, how services are provided to children.” Yet the study will survey only special education administrators. Without surveying parents about IDEA implementation, the purpose of the study cannot be achieved. By Congress’ design, parents are crucial stakeholders on IDEA implementation.

The importance that Congress placed on parents is clear on the face of the IDEA which refers to parents some 197 times - giving them strong roles and procedural protections. For example,

  • Parents are first on the list of required state advisory panel members and are required to be in the majority of the panels. The panels, which exist in every state, are required to advise the state educational agency on the unmet needs in the state’s education of children with disabilities; the development of evaluations and reporting on data to the Secretary of Education; the development of corrective action plans to address findings identified in federal monitoring reports; and the development and implementation of policies relating to the coordination of services for children with disabilities. (20 U.S.C. Section 1412(a)(21)(A-D));
  • Parents are first on the list of required IEP team members. (20 U.S.C. Section 1414(d)(1)(B));
  • Parents are required members of any group that makes decisions on educational placement of their child. (20 U.S.C. Section 1414(e)); and
  • Parents of children with disabilities are guaranteed procedural safeguards with respect to the provision of a free and appropriate public education. (20 U.S.C. Section 1415).  Any initiation of due process procedures, complaints, or grievances start with parents, not school administrators.

As such, the roles of parents under the IDEA make them a necessary source of vital information on the law’s implementation across the nation. If the Department’s goal is to obtain a genuinely full, valid, and reliable picture of IDEA implementation, it is necessary to survey for parents the 2019 National Assessment.

We note that the Department’s 2011 IDEA National Assessment Implementation Study, described as providing “a comprehensive national picture of the state and local implementation of IDEA,” also excluded the input of parents of children with disabilities, surveying only state and local educational agency leadership. The Department has an opportunity and a responsibility not to repeat the exclusion in its 2019 study.

Second, the survey questions on discipline should be revised to obtain substantive information on how discipline policies are administered – especially regarding the harmful practices of restraint and seclusion.

From the beginning of our more than 40-year history, NCD has worked to promote policies that ensure safe educational environments for children with disabilities free from unnecessary and inappropriate restraint and seclusion, where they are treated with dignity and respect. Additionally, NCD has repeatedly recognized the importance of federal data collection conducted by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights’ (OCR) Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), recommending that the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights engage in robust enforcement of the mandatory CRDC reporting requirements to ensure that public schools (including charter schools) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) submit all data on incidents of restraint and seclusion.

The Department has an opportunity, through the 2019 National Assessment, to obtain meaningful information about the practice of restraint and seclusion on a national scale, however, NCD is concerned that the survey questions on discipline will not provide it. They proposed survey questions on Discipline fall short as a manner to learn about how discipline policies and practices are being administered in schools for students with disabilities. NCD recommends that the Department revise and/or expand the current questions in a manner that will elicit substantive information on the policies and practices utilized by states, districts, and schools, as well as their impact on students with disabilities.

Lastly, the 2019 National Assessment should be informed by the extensive amount of information that is currently available on Part B and Part C of the IDEA.

Substantial resources have been devoted to gathering and reporting on IDEA implementation at both the state and federal level, these resources include:

  • Annual Performance Reports (APR) submitted by every state;
  • State Performance Plan/Annual Performance Report (SPP/APR) Analysis;
  • Annual Reports to Congress on the Implementation of the IDEA;
  • Annual State Determinations and Annual LEA Determinations;
  • Differentiated Monitoring and Support reports;
  • National Council on Disability 2018 IDEA Report Series;
  • Civil Rights Data Collection administered by ED’s Office for Civil Rights;
  • Reports on critical IDEA implementation issues produced by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), including: Education Should Take Immediate Action to Address Inaccuracies in Federal Restraint and Seclusion Data (June, 2019); Varied State Criteria May Contribute to Differences in Percentages of Children Served (April, 2019); Federal Data and Resources on Restraint and Seclusion (February, 2019); Discipline Disparities for Black Students, Boys, and Students with Disabilities (April, 2018); Every Student Succeeds Act: Early Observations on State Changes to Accountability Systems (June, 2017); Special Education: State and Local-Imposed Requirements Complicate Federal Efforts to Reduce Administrative Burden (February, 2016);
  • National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) annual reports on participation and performance of students with disabilities on state assessments;
  • Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education (CADRE) annual reports on dispute resolution by states; and
  • Reports by the Education Commission of the States, including a 2019 report providing a 50-State Comparison of K-12 Special Education Funding.

NCD appreciates the Department of Education’s continued focus on the issue of IDEA implementation. Should you have questions about our concerns, please contact Ana Torres-Davis, Attorney Advisor, at atorresdavis@ncd.gov.

Respectfully,

Neil Romano
Chairman

[1] Improving the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Ed Act: Making Schools Work for All of America's Children (1995); Back to School on Civil Rights (2000); Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Reauthorization: Where Do We Really Stand? (2002); Improving Educational Outcomes for Students with Disabilities (2004); and a 2015 statement on the 40th anniversary of the IDEA.