National Alliance on Mental Illness
page printed from
(800) 950-NAMI;

Senate Scheduled To Vote Tomorrow On Amendment To IDEA, Placing Students With Serious Brain Disorders At Risk

Chris Marshall
For Immediate Release
17 May 99

Last Thursday, May 13, Senators John Ashcroft (R-MO), William Frist (R-TN) and others introduced an amendment to the Juvenile Crime bill (S. 254), sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), that the Senate is now debating. The amendment introduced by Senators Ashcroft and Frist would amend the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and erode the protections for students with disabilities, including children with severe mental illnesses, and increase the likelihood of discrimination.

The Ashcroft/Frist amendment (S. 349) would allow a school to cease all educational services to a student with a disability who carries to or possesses a gun or firearm in school or a school. function. Even if the school provides educational services to students who are suspended or expelled, it is not required to provide a free appropriate public education to a student with a disability. The intent and effect of this amendment is to undo vital protections provided by the IDEA in the area of discipline. By increasing the unilateral, subjective authority of school officials, the amendment could return us to the days when school officials routinely used disciplinary measures to exclude children with serious brain disorders from education simply because they were different or more difficult to educate than non-disabled children.

The Ashcroft/Frist amendment will not result in safer schools or communities. In fact, every major law enforcement agency reports that expelling or suspending children without education services only increases juvenile crime. Drop out rates, incarceration rates and drug use rates also increase when children are expelled or suspended without education services.

The vote on this amendment will be held some time tomorrow, Tuesday, May 18.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) is preparing to introduce an amendment which clarifies that schools can and should remove children who bring guns to school and that schools should provide them with immediate appropriate intervention and services including mental health services in order to maximize the likelihood that such child does not engage in such behavior or such behavior does not reoccur. The Harkin Amendment also reaffirms that nothing prohibits a school from reporting a crime to appropriate authorities and would amend the Juvenile Crime bill and not IDEA.


Please contact your Senators before the vote tomorrow and urge them to oppose the Ashcroft/Frist amendment, S. 349, which would make it easier to discriminate against children with serious brain disorders and deny them a free appropriate public education. Urge your Senators not to violate the carefully crafted compromise on the 1997 IDEA reauthorization which required that first the school investigate whether an IDEA child's actions are a "manifestation of the disability."

Also, urge your Senators to support the Harkin amendment which will actually assist schools to maintain safe environments conducive to learning without amending IDEA and removing fair and just protections for students with disabilities, including children with severe mental illnesses.

All Senators can be reached by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Phone, fax and email can be obtained by going to the policy page of the NAMI website at and click on ‘Write to Congress."


The IDEA Amendments of 1997, which were the product of comprehensive bipartisan negotiations involving both chambers of Congress and the Administration, with broad input from the education community and parents, gave schools important new tools in dealing with dangerous behavior in schools--

  • the 1997 Amendments expanded provisions in prior law to give school officials unilateral authority to remove children with disabilities to interim alternative educational placements for up to 45 days if they carry a weapon to school or a school function and for knowing possession of illegal drugs and sale or solicitation of the sale of controlled substances. (Prior law had allowed schools to unilaterally remove children with disabilities only for bringing a gun to school.)

  • the 1997 amendments also permitted school officials to ask a hearing officer to order the removal of a child with disabilities to an interim alternative educational placement for up to 45 days if a child was substantially likely to injure self or others or if he or she remained in their current placement.

  • and, of course, schools retain their pre-existing authority to go to a court for appropriate injunctive relief when they believe that a child is dangerous.

This Ashcroft/Frist amendment would upset the carefully crafted IDEA discipline provisions that give schools and teachers the tools they need to ensure that schools and classes are safe and orderly places conducive to learning for all, protect children with serious brain disorders from discrimination and ensure that they receive the services they need to succeed.