Federal Special Education Law and Discipline of Students with Disabilities: A Description of the Factors Influencing Key Actors Involved in the Development of Sections 612(a)(1)(A) and 615(k) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
Doctor of Philosophy
Richard S. Vacca
Until the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), policies regarding discipline of students with disabilities were set primarily by case law. In 1995, the debates over reauthorization of the IDEA focused on proposed provisions designed to describe. at the federal level. the measures and procedures to be used by public school officials when disciplining students with disabilities.
The purpose of this study was to describe and analyze the factors influencing key actors involved in the development of the two sections ofthe I997 IDEA that address discipline of students with disabilities. A review of the literature suggested that certain factors had inﬂuenced the development of other federal special education legislation. These factors were: case law: special interest group activity: views of federalism: and other related federal legislation passed at about the same time.
The design of this study was a case study. Interviews were conducted with key informants from government and special interest groups identified through a review of historical documents addressing the reauthorization of IDEA and through snowball sampling techniques. Interview data were corroborated with appropriate historical documents.
Analysis of the data revealed that the key actors’ goal was to develop a federal discipline policy that balanced maintaining school environments conducive to learning and safeguarding the rights of students with disabilities. They used a policy development model to balance seven policy issues and seven inﬂuential factors as they developed the 1997 IDEA discipline provisions. The inﬂuential factors were: beliefs; other federal legislation: case law: conﬂicts between doctrinal. functional. and strategic views of federalism; lack of data: stories: and emotions. Of these, the factors that most inﬂuenced key actors were their beliefs and their functional view of federalism.
The study suggested further research on the applicability of the policy development model and its aspects to the development of other federal-level education legislation. Further research was also recommended on the inﬂuence of case law on future versions of special education legislation.
The study suggested that policy development at the state and local school levels focus on data collection, proactive approaches to managing discipline of students with disabilities. and means by which all students suspended long-term or expelled from school can continue to receive educational services.
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