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Louisiana Struggles in Allowing IEP Teams to Create Diploma Pathways

Earlier this year, Louisiana lawmakers overwhelming approved a law that would permit some students with disabilities to opt out of the state's testing regime and instead follow a different path to a diploma

However, implementing the new policy is turning out to be difficult, according to an article published Thursday in the New Orleans Advocate. The policy allows a student's individualized education program team, which is made up of parents, teachers, and administrators, to develop an alternate pathway to a diploma. But just how the teams are supposed to develop those plans has been a sticking point, the article said. 

The new IEPs were supposed to be completed within 30 days after the start of school, which some lawmakers now say privately was unrealistic.

The state extended that deadline to January, which then caused parents and others to complain that students still are awaiting guidance with nearly half the school year finished.

[Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John C. White] said the law essentially turned IEP oversight from one source—the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education—to 75,000 individual teams now in charge of crafting their own plans.

"We are training them," he said. "Are they all at the place they ought to be? No. It will take time."

The U.S. Department of Education has also indicated it will be taking a careful look at how the law, which was signed June 23, is implemented. In July, Michael K. Yudin, the acting assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and Deborah S. Delisle, the assistant secretary of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, sent a letter to White that outlined all the ways the policy could run afoul of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind Act). 

For example, the ESEA requires that all students be given access to challenging academic and achievement standards, and the entity tasked with creating those standards is the state department of education. "To the extent the [new law] permits IEP teams to set different academic standards for some students with disabilities, those actions would violate the ESEA," the letter said. Creating a different, and potentially lower, standard for students in special education may also violate their right to a free, appropriate education under the IDEA.

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