Future Reflections  Fall 2006

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IDEA Regulations Released

by Brandon Young

Editor’s Note: Brandon Young is a senior at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He is majoring in political science with a minor in philosophy, with plans to attend law school after graduation and further training in blindness skills at the NFB Louisiana Center for the Blind. During the summer of 2006, Young served as an intern at the National Center for the Blind under James McCarthy in the governmental affairs department of the NFB. Here is what he has to say about the release of the new IDEA regulations:

On August 3, the United States Department of Education (DOE) held a ceremony to announce release of the final regulations for Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) was invited to attend. Jim McCarthy, director of governmental affairs; Barbara Cheadle, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children; Brandon Young, intern, department of governmental affairs; and Rachael Becker, a blind high school student from Maryland, attended the event on behalf of the NFB. We learned that the final regulations will be posted in the Federal Register on August 14, and will take effect sixty days after that date.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Assistant Secretary of the Office for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) John Hager, and Director of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Alexa Posny, all spoke at the meeting. Hager said that the department had received 5,500 responses to the regulations and that this was likely the highest number of comments ever received for special education regulations. The OSERS held two sets of public meetings at which interested individuals could offer their opinions.

Hager said that approximately three-quarters of the Federal Register document is a point-by-point analysis of the numerous public comments, and the remaining one-quarter consists of the regulations and appendices. The speakers emphasized that most of the proposed regulations were left unchanged in the final document. The key point Secretary Spellings made, which the other speakers echoed, was the importance of high expectations for students with disabilities. They stressed that students with disabilities should be challenged to achieve and should receive instruction from highly qualified teachers, a requirement of No Child Left Behind.

Many people, including our readers and representatives from the NFB, submitted comments last summer that expressed concerns about the implementation of the new instructional materials provisions. Primary among those concerns was the issue of guidelines for states choosing to opt-in or -out of using the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC). We said that there must be a clear process for states and local education agencies (LEAs) to communicate whether or not they are choosing to participate with the newly created Center (NIMAC), and that this information be readily available to parents, advocates, and other members of the public. The NFB also urged the department to require that, as a condition for opting-out, the states and local agencies had to submit data on how they planned to provide students accessible formats in a timely manner. However, the department denied this latter request claiming that the statute did not permit it to do so. But, the department did agree to make information more publicly available and it has already published the annual list of states participating and those not participating with the NIMAC on its Web site at www.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/monitor/nimac.html.

Once there was a chance for questions, Jim McCarthy vocalized concern about the instructional material regulations, stating that there were problems with the original proposal. Department officials expressed the view that the final regulations were improved; although they conceded that Jim and other advocates would probably not be completely happy. They finally stated that the department would use its position as a “bully pulpit” to stress the importance of students getting their Braille books and other nonvisually accessible instructional materials on time.

Several individuals from a variety of organizations asked questions and made comments about the new regulations, but the most inspiring and well-received statements came from two young students. One was our own Rachael Becker. She thought it was extremely important that department officials recognize how difficult it is for students to do well in school when textbooks are late. She said that there were times in her experience that she never received her Braille textbooks at all. Department officials pledged to do all in their power to assure that students received their textbooks at the same time as their peers and stated that this was the goal of the new provisions.

It was a great experience to hear from the top ranking officials of our education system. They told us that the regulations were improved from the original proposal, and after reviewing them, I agree. They made what I hope is a true commitment to our blind children, saying they would use their positions to educate states and local districts to the importance of getting students their textbooks on time. So now, we need to do our part and hold these officials to their commitments. No other work we have done in the Federation is any more important than this: to improve opportunities for blind elementary and high school students to achieve future success.

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