So…yesterday I *thought* I was going to write about some of the battles we won in elementary school.
Alas…I had an experience today that changed today’s topic.
For the past eight years I have had the honor of reading names at my University’s Commencement. I have always enjoyed this experience – reading the names of students I had as Freshman, reading the names of students I mentored, reading the names of students that were challenging, reading the names of students who made me laugh…
Today when I showed up to the President’s Party room I saw a semi-familiar face (yes..it’s also pretty cool to be part of the ‘President’s Party’). You know that face? The one where you *think* you know who it is…but you’re not really sure. Then I was handed our ‘line-up order and instruction sheet’ and sure enough it was him. Senator Tom Harkin.
It turns out he was receiving an honorary Doctorate from the University. Which by the way, (I think) is the BEST way to earn a Doctoral Degree. Get an honorary one for being awesome.
Now, lots of people in my fine state of Iowa have opinions about Senator Harkin. He’s kind of like the Yankees. People love him…or they don’t. I certainly don’t like all of the decisions he has made or policy he helped to create. But…I knew after the ceremony I needed to say thank you.
Senator Harkin had a brother who was hearing-impaired. In honor of his brother he introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into the Senate. This was simply a precursor to what he did that changed our lives.
On October 31, 1989 Senator Harkin introduced the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA). It passed the Senate and the House (without objection) in 1990. George H.W. Bush signed IDEA into law on October 30, 1990.
What is the IDEA act? It was the act that opened public schools to millions of children with disabilities; now these children would have the opportunity to develop, grow, contribute, and learn – just like their peers.
The six major tenants of IDEA:
- The Individualized Education Program (IEP) – Read Day #149, IEP Part I
- Free Appropriate Public Education – This simply means that schools must provide a free education and services to children with special needs.
- Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)- This is the piece that allows Tucker to spend most of his day in a ‘regular’ classroom. The education he receives should not work at setting him apart – but work at ‘norming’ him as much as possible with his peers.
- Appropriate Evaluation – All students have the right to be evaluated for services that special education programs could provide.
- Parent and Teacher Participation – Families and teachers should work together to determine and track IEP goals, develop ideas to support the LRE, and discuss any other important issues.
- Procedural Safeguards – IDEA sets the following safeguards:
- Access to educational records
- Parent Participation (In any and all meetings regarding placement and educational decisions)
- Prior Written Notice (Any time anything will be changed in a student’s IEP their parents must first be notified)
- Procedural Safeguards Notice (A written copy should be provided to parents under federal and state law)
- Understandable language (Translators must be provided when needed)
- Informed Consent (Before any evaluations or services are provided the student’s parents must be informed and agree in writing before the school can move forward)
- “Stay Put” Rights (If parents disagree with the school’s decision the student can stay put while the parents and school go through dispute resolution)
- Due Process (If a parent has a dispute with the school about their student’s special education placement or teaching a process called due process is used to resolve issues; both parties are then able to tell their sides of the story in a court like setting)
- Civil Action (If due process results are not to the liking of the parent or the school a civil lawsuit can be filed)
- Mediation (An alternative to due process hearings) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individuals_with_Disabilities_Education_Act)
That’s pretty important stuff – especially in our lives. Yes, reading and understanding the legislation is a chore – but it’s necessary in understanding our rights. It’s a scary thing, you know. A parent who knows her rights.
IDEA has received a number of amendments and improvements. One of those happened to be in 1997 when the bill was amended to included children at the tender age of three. This addition allowed students to be both identified AND receive services earlier. I cannot begin to explain how much early and constant intervention made a difference in our lives.
So, after the ceremony I was sure to find him. I thanked him. I told him about Tucker and explained that without this piece of legislation Tucker’s outlook may be very different. Then, he wanted to know more about Tucker.
The best part? It wasn’t a politician wanting to know more – it was genuine. He asked questions about his sensory needs, about his IEP, about the services he receives. He asked what I thought about the process.
Then, he apologized because he had to go…and it was sincere. “I am so sorry. I really would love to hear more and learn more about your son – but I have to go. I know how to find you though.”
He turned…then I laughed.
Yeah…I’m sure the Senator can find me if he wants.
I may not agree with everything he does…but this thing that he did?
Thank you, Senator Harkin.