American Association of Blind Teachers

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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 is one of the most important pieces of legislation influencing blind and visually impaired students. It is essential that all parents and teachers be familiar with the Act and how it impacts their children. The following is excerpted from
Teaching Chemistry to Students with Disabilities:A Manual for High Schools, Colleges,and Graduate Programs,
which was drafted by the American Chemical Society Committee on Chemists with Disabilities. Although written with the study of sciences in mind, it nonetheless provides an excellent overview of the key provisions of the law and how they relate to parents, teachers, and students.

Dorothy L. Miner, Ron Nieman, Anne B. Swanson, and Michael Woods

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The IDEA of 1975 provided federal assistance to states for educational services for individuals with disabilities up to age 22 or highschool graduation. The law guaranteed full access to educational opportunity for all students with disabilities.

IDEA 1997 gave local schools several responsibilities. First, they must determine whether the student has a disability. Second, they must determine the student’s educational needs. Third, they must develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for students with disabilities in grades K-12.

IDEA 1997 also directed that children with disabilities be educated with their nondisabled peers. In general, this provision precludes assigning students with disabilities to “special education” classes, separate schooling, or other removal from the regular education environment. Such exclusion can occur only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.

There is ample evidence to indicate that laboratory experiences enhance science learning. Therefore, laboratory participation is essential in providing students with disabilities an equal opportunity to learn. Science facilities must be accessible and usable for individuals with disabilities in daily use and for evaluating students’ performance.

Schools may be required to acquire or modify equipment or devices, make appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, provide qualified readers or interpreters, and modify teaching materials and classroom policies for students with disabilities.

WHAT is an IEP?

The IDEA amendments of 1997 require an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for children with disabilities in grades K-12. An IEP is a written plan for facilitating the student’s education. Many schools had used IEPs in the past; IDEA-97 made the mandatory. IEPs are a central part of IDEA’s goal of improving the education of children with disabilities who are younger than 22. IDEA also required that students with disabilities generally be educated with their nondisabled peers in regular classrooms.

IDEA mandated establishment of an IEP team for students who need special education and related services. In general, an IEP is required for all children in special education. An IEP, however, is not always required for students who can fully participate in a normal classroom setting without additional accommodations. An IEP consists of a written statement for each child, which is developed by the IEP team and reviewed and revised at least once a year. The IEP must include
* the child’s present level of educational performance;
* annual measurable goals and objectives;
* recommended special education and related services;
* a description of the least restrictive environment and the plan for participation in the regular curriculum with nondisabled peers;
* dates, frequency, location, and duration of services;
* assessment methods;
* a
transition plan
for those older than 14; and
* process monitors and parent reporting procedures.

An IEP team should include
* the parents of the child with a disability;
* at least one regular-education teacher (if the child is, or may be, participating in regular education);
* at least one special education teacher or, if appropriate, at least one special education provider for the child;
* a representative of the local education agency who meets certain specified requirements, such as the ability to represent the agency and local school authority to justify the team recommendations and maintain compliance with the law;
* an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results;
* at the discretion of the parents or agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel (such as an itinerant specialist); and whenever appropriate, the student.

Most state and local agencies make the special educator on the IEP team responsible for implementing the IEP. The regular educator is required to assume an active role in educating students with special needs.

Legislation lacks specific recommendations on how schools should provide the teacher in service training and time necessary to accomplish successful collaboration in the regular classroom. The regular education teacher’s role in these meetings is clearly required and defined. He or she is a member of the IEP team and must, to the extent appropriate, participate in the development of the IEP for the child. These responsibilities include determining appropriate positive behavioral intervention strategies and supplements and services, program modifications, and support for school personnel.

In addition to or instead of an IEP, some students may have a “504 plan,” which describes accommodations that are not of an instructional nature. For example, a student with mobility impairment may be allowed to leave all classes 2 minutes early, to avoid congested hallways and arrive at the next class on time. A student with ADHD may have a plan that describes help with organizational skills that will ensure that homework will be brought to class.

Note: It is important to realize that the law has been interpreted to mean that, if software, hardware, or any other equipment or training is recommended by a school official to a parent, then the school is obligated to pay for the recommendation. As a result, unfortunately, authorities frequently will not volunteer such suggestions for fear of committing the school system to the expenditure. Consequently, it is critical for families to learn what resources would be most beneficial and advocate for them in the IEP.

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