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Rules Finally Issued on Infants, Toddlers With Disabilities

UPDATED

Six years after the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act was renewed, the U.S. Department of Education today finalized regulations that address how to work with infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families.

Babies and toddlers with disabilities come under the law's Part C program, a $436 million program that serves about 340,000 children through age 2 who have developmental delays or a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of leading to a developmental delay.

The regulations cover essentially the whole of Part C, including how quickly children must be identified and referred to those who can work with them, what language they should be evaluated in, and whether parents should be consulted before their insurance is tapped to pay for some of the services. (That's why the regulations are more than 900 pages long.)

Some highlights:

• Children must be referred to the Part C program "as soon as possible but in no case more than seven days" after identification.

• The new regulations clarify the transition requirements that apply to children receiving services as they move to preschool, kindergarten or elementary school.

• The regulations clarify when and what transition requirements apply to toddlers with disabilities, including toddlers in a state that elects to offer services beyond the age of 3. "Children are so young," said Deborah Zeigler, the associate executive director of policy and advocacy services for the Council for Exceptional Children. "The timelines are important."

• Also, the Education Department said the regulations have been revised to include the law's existing "maintenance of effort" requirements (which govern how much states and school districts spend on students with disabilities from year to year). But the agency will issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on these provisions and give the public a chance to comment on the proposal. That's important because whenever there are new regulations, there are expenses. "We certainly kept that in mind as we were developing these," said Ruth E. Ryder, deputy director of the Education Department's Office of Special Education Programs. "We feel like the benefit to children and families greatly outweighs any cost."

• States must get a parent's permission before requiring a parent to enroll in a public benefits or an insurance program for services for their child or if the use of funds from a public benefits or insurance program imposes certain costs on the parent. When the regulations were offered up for comment, this particular issue drew many comments. "It was a big issue—a big issue that needed clarification," said Mary Louise Dirrigl, director of the Office of Policy and Planning IDEA Team.

• Another area that needed clarifying was what language to use when evaluating a very young child, Ms. Dirrigl said. The regulations now say that those evaluating a child can use either the native language of the child or his or her parents.

I'm still learning about all of these provisions and the others updated by the new regulations. I'll update this post again or post a fresh one as I learn more, and I'd love to hear your thoughts about the good, bad, and ugly of all of this.

Separately today, the Education Department is proposing new regulations regarding when a state or district wants to use a child's or parent's public benefits or insurance to pay for services under the IDEA.

They want to hear your thoughts, too.

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