National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Senate Scheduled To Vote Tomorrow On Amendment To IDEA, Placing Students With Serious Brain Disorders At Risk
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 www.nami.org/policy.htm 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--
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.