National Alliance on Mental Illness
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August 23, 2002

NAMI Comments on Special Education Project

Earlier this week, NAMI submitted comments to the Federal Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services regarding a report issued recently by the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education. The Commission's report was published in the Federal Register of July 18, 2002 and can be accessed at The President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education was established by President George W. Bush to collect information and study issues related to Federal, State and local special education programs with the goal of recommending policies for improving the education performance of students with disabilities. The Commission's report could influence objectives of the Bush Administration in the forthcoming reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) scheduled in 2003.

While praising many of the recommendations in the Commission's report, NAMI expressed major concerns with three recommendations contained in the report. First, NAMI's letter expressed concern with the Commission's recommendation to streamline documentation and procedural requirements in IDEA, pointing out that many of the existing procedural and due process protections are in the law to give families of children with disabilites a voice in their efforts to advocate for appropriate educational and related services for their children. Second, NAMI has major concerns with the Commission's recommendation to reduce 13 eligibility categories currently in IDEA to three categories - "sensory disabilities", "physical and neurological disabilities" and "developmental disabilities." We are particularly concerned that the Commission's recommendation to classify mental illnesses as "developmental disabilities - emotional disturbance" could impose barriers to special education services for some children with mental illnesses and does not reflect evolving scientific evidence that early onset mental illnesses are neurobiological brain disorders. Finally, NAMI's letter expressed concerns with the Commission's recommendation to maintain federal funding of IDEA as discretionary and not mandatory. The historic lack of full federal funding for IDEA is one of the major reasons why appropriate special education services are limited in many communities. NAMI is on record as supporting mandatory full federal funding of IDEA.

However, NAMI also praised many of the issues raised by the Commission in its report, including:

  • the importance of early assessment and identification of children and adolescents with disabilities, including children and adolescents with mental illnesses;
  • the importance of meaningful family involvement and participation in all aspects of educational services and experiences of children with disabilities;
  • the need to improve training and professional development for special and general education teachers as well as other school personnel who work with students who have disabilities; and
  • the critical importance of transition planning and services for young people with disabilities making the transition from school to work or adult systems.

We are interested in your thoughts and comments about NAMI's reactions to the Commission's report, the report itself and about the impending reauthorization of IDEA. Please submit your comments to Darcy Gruttadaro ( or Kim Tomlinson (

Read the full text of NAMI's Letter.