National Alliance on Mental Illness
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IDEA UNDER ATTACK: Rights of Students with Brain Disorders in Severe Jeopardy!

Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, has been under heavy attack by groups that want to reopen the debates resolved by the passage of IDEA last year. These groups want to weaken the protections for our children contained in that law. They have bombarded the Secretary and leaders in Congress with their complaints long after the regulatory comment period ended, demanding weakening changes. We are frankly at a loss and disillusioned by this clear attempt to subvert the regulatory process. Can we afford to allow this to happen?

Our response--

  • Don’t reward those groups who are trying to subvert the federal regulatory process.
  • We expect the Secretary and our representatives to stay strong and demonstrate their real commitment to our children with disabilities.
  • Remember the promises made during the passage of IDEA! Honor them!!

Students with disabilities, especially those with brain disorders who so often are the least served in their local schools, need our help NOW.

The Time Is Now. Only You Can Make A Difference!


  • 1.Contact the Secretary of Education
  • 2.Contact Hill Leaders, Chairman Jeffords & Chairman Goodling
  • 3.Contact your Senators and Representatives during spring recess at their local district and state offices. (Congressional recess is from April 2nd to April 20th)

For Members of Congress: Let them know they cannot back away from the commitment made to our children.

The message--

  • IDEA is a good law. Let the recent amendments take effect and later evaluate the regulatory changes.
  • Implement and fund IDEA now! Do not weaken the regulations. If anything, the regs don’t provide enough guidance to ensure that the law is appropriately implemented.
  • Don’t destroy the consensus that was built during this unique legislative process.
  • Don’t let special interest groups reopen the debates that were resolved by the passage of IDEA.

2. For Secretary Riley: Urge him to hold strong to the protections embodied in the IDEA ‘97 Reauthorization and existing policy letters. Don’t let special interest groups undermine the new IDEA.

The message

  • The US Department of Education was RIGHT to incorporate existing policy letters into the proposed regulations; they did just what Congress told them to do.
  • Issue a strong regulation and pay attention to the disability community’s comments.

Send mail for Secretary Riley at the following address:

The Honorable Richard Riley
Secretary, U.S. Department of Education
Washington, D.C. 20202


On June 4, 1997, the reauthorized IDEA was signed into law by President Clinton. This law was developed through an unprecedented, bicameral, bipartisan effort. It was carefully crafted to respond to the sometimes conflicting concerns of parents and professionals.

The Department of Education published proposed regulations on October 22, 1997. The regulations followed the intent of Congress by incorporating language directly from the statute. The regulations also followed the instructions of Congress by incorporating existing Policy Letters into the proposed regulations, to subject them to public review and comment. The comments to the Notice of Proposed Rule-Making were due January 20, 1998.

The Department of Education received over 2,000 comments. NAMI and other organizations concerned with IDEA submitted timely responses. (previous E-NEWS) All of the other stakeholders had the same opportunity to submit their comments within the regulatory timeframe.

Apparently influenced by heavy pressure from some "general education" groups, key Republican leaders of the House and Senate submitted a joint letter to Secretary Riley.

These Congressional leaders did not seek input from parents or other disability leaders. (In some cases, their recommendations recommend removal of language that is actually in the legislation and supported by the congressional intent.

We have now have learned that leaders of some "general education" groups have been deluging Congressional leaders and the Secretary of Education with the complaint that "the regulations have gone too far!" Rumor has it that the Secretary has received over 3,000 of these letters. This kind of pressure is a behind-the-scenes, back-door subversion of the regulatory process.


On Wednesday, March 18, Senator Gorton (WA) - a fierce opponent of the rights of children with disabilities - presented his "photo opportunity" about the new IDEA. He had a roll of paper 40 feet long as an example of the paperwork that will supposedly now be required of teachers. He spouted hyperbole about knives and guns and students with disabilities threatening other students with an electric saw in shop class. His threats to IDEA, and the threats of the general educators’ special interest groups, are real — and we must respond NOW.

As of April 1, the amendment put forward by Slade Gorton that would nullify all of the discipline language in the IDEA Amendments of 1997 has a NEW NAME: Please note that it is now called/referred to as the Gregg amendment regarding IDEA flexibility.

What effect does this amendment have? Each local school board can decide for their own school division whether they can deny education/special education and related services to students with disabilities. Thus, doing away with the "zero reject" provision of the IDEA (ALL means ALL), putting aside the requirement to review the IEP, services, supports and placement of a student who has broken school rules to determine if that student is appropriately placed AND IF THE services and supports were ACTUALLY GIVEN per the IEP, and will relieve school folks of the burden of determining if the student's behavior has a direct relationship to his/her disability. Particularly troubling, too, is the reference to not only ensure "safety", but also "an appropriate educational atmosphere"...this is deliberately vague enough to almost guarantee that our youngsters can be moved to more restrictive educational settings at the will of the principal, teacher, school board member, etc. without the slightest concern for the IEP process.