AOTA Comments Included in New IDEA Regulations
Comments and recommendations submitted by AOTA have been incorporated in new Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) regulations released by the Department of Education on August 3, 2006. Ensuring access to the individual education program (IEP) for parents and related service providers, clarification of requirements for paraprofessionals, and the use of evidence-based interventions "to the extent practicable" were among the comments from AOTA included in the final regulations. Overall, the regulations do not present sweeping changes to special education and related services, but do emphasize certain areas important to occupational therapy.
The regulations reflected a noticeable trend by the Department of Education to extend flexibility to parents and school systems in terms of the delivery of services in IEPs and in broader special education initiatives and programs within their jurisdiction.
The regulations emphasize the importance of quality professionals and interventions while maintaining latitude for state and local education agencies. Quality initiatives related to personnel included clarification of "highly qualified" teachers, but did not establish new requirements for related service providers. However, the new regulations do—in the analysis of comments section published with the regulations—highlight the importance of licensure and certification to the quality of school-based related service providers.
- Although it is the clear intent of the Department of Education to extend highly qualified requirements to related service providers, the states will be allowed to regulate that area. In the analysis-of-comments section, the Department states that sufficient incentives exist for states to ensure that related services providers are held to highly qualified standards through licensing laws and the need for related service providers to be Medicaid eligible in order to have their medically necessary services reimbursed by Medicaid.
- The unwillingness of the Department to regulate highly qualified related service providers demonstrates the importance of state licensing laws related to occupational therapy practice. The regulations also clarify the role of paraprofessionals and the responsibility of such providers to practice under the supervision of appropriately trained special education and related service professionals. This was accomplished without overly restricting the states from establishing their own specific criteria, yet continues to require that appropriately trained and supervised staff must be available to meet the special education and related service needs of the school system.
In regard to quality interventions and best practices, the regulations emphasize the importance of evidence-based practice and measurable outcomes for interventions. The regulations also continue to provide flexibility to the states and IEP teams to develop an individualized education program using all appropriate resources, including both evidence-based and non-evidence-based interventions and strategies. Research-based interventions are promoted by the regulations, but other interventions and services are not eliminated. Much of the regulation in the area of research or evidence-based interventions relates to educational interventions but also applies to related services like occupational therapy.
In an important validation of their role, related services are referenced in the regulations as potential components of early intervening efforts. The regulations state that it is appropriate to use related service professionals for early intervening services at the discretion of the local educational agency (LEA).
The new regulations are currently available at the Department of Education Web site at: www.ed.gov/idea. The official regulations are scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on August 14, 2006. The Department of Education has also released a resource toolkit, which can be downloaded from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) Web site at: http://www.osepideasthatwork.org/toolkit/index.asp
More information about the regulations—including section-by-section analysis and resources for school-based occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants—will be available soon in the IDEA Information Center on AOTA's Web site.