In the add insult to injury category, on 16th November, USED sent a "Dear Colleague" letter to clarify that all IEPs must be aligned to state academic content standards (Common Core for most of us) for the grade level of the student. Let that sink in for just a sec. Realize that this letter is for "guidance" and is not actually a change to IDEA, which, for probably a very short while, is the law of the land.
At the bottom of page one (the missive is seven pages long), in tiny type, is a clarification, or as I call it, weaseling out of any responsibility for any harm done, directly or indirectly, to a student with a disability because of this asinine, if not illegal, "guidance." Here is a tidbit: "The Department has determined that this document is a “significant guidance document” under the Office of Management and Budget’s Final Bulletin for Agency Good Guidance Practices...The purpose of this guidance is to provide State and local educational agencies (LEAs) with information to assist them in meeting their obligations under the IDEA and its implementing regulations in developing IEPs for children with disabilities. This guidance does not impose any requirements beyond those required under applicable law and regulations. It does not create or confer any rights for or on any person." Right. Thanks for letting parents know (oh wait, they didn't receive this letter) that in one paragraph you ignore IDEA and in the small print excuse yourself from culpability. <insert expletive of your choice>
The letter then goes on to discuss FAPE and how an IEP is the vehicle through which a student has access to FAPE. Ok, I'm good with that, but (seems there's always a "but") the paragraph before provided guidance that is the exact opposite of what an IEP actually is! Please, tell me. How are districts to provide FAPE while following USED's guidance (for which it takes no responsibility)?
The next several pages are devoted to the interpretation of "general education curriculum" (read: state standards) and how USED thinks students with disabilities will magically be able to meet grade level standards, or at the very least close their own achievement gap year to year. I have no trouble with challenging students with disabilities, nor with attempting to close academic gaps. I do, however, have big issues with only allowing a small number, as yet undefined, to have modified standards and assessments that are appropriate for those individual students. That is the spirit of IDEA. To give access to an education, to the extent possible, to all students. Making it exponentially more difficult, just because (or because you have no idea what the hell you're talking about - which seems to be the case with USED), is cruel. Thank you, Nancy, for that word. That is exactly what it is.
The example for implementation includes what must be the only idea the USED folks think special education is all about, that is using audio to help students who are reading significantly below grade level. If only it was as simple as subscribing to the reformy Audibles to cure significant reading deficits. Gee, wish I had thought of that.
Are you seeing a trend here? Put changes up on the Federal Register. Ignore or blow off two years worth of comments and questions about the abject stupidity of the changes and the "supporting research." Then send "guidance" directly to district personnel which, as far as I can see, is directly in opposition to IDEA.
Are you mad yet?
Michael Yudin and Melody Musgrove from USED are hoping for feedback. Please give it to them: If you are interested in commenting on this document, please e-mail your comments
to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to us at the following address: US Department of Education,
550 12th Street SW, PCP Room 5139, Washington, DC 20202-2600. Mostly they want to hear how well their guidance is working, but hey, probably better to just tell them the truth.