State officials OK improved regulations for disabled students

COLUMBIA -- Regulations aimed at improving services to special-education students and making sure students with disabilities have more access to the general curriculum were approved Wednesday by State Board of Education officials.

A number of the changes -- the most recent as South Carolina adopts its version of the federally reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act -- will address postsecondary options for students, as well as "highly qualified" teacher certification.

Among the regulations:

• S.C. will lower the age of students for transition services to 13 from 14. Transition services include community-based instruction, as well as assistance with finding and maintaining employment.

• Teachers in private schools and programs must be certified as highly qualified if serving a disabled student whose schooling is paid for with public money.

• Officials will work to prepare students with disabilities for postsecondary education.

The new regulations will take effect Aug. 24. The highly qualified teacher requirement becomes effective July 1.

About 111,000 S.C. students receive special-education services, with at least 80 percent of them eligible to participate in general-education courses with the rest of the school population, said Susan DuRant, director of the state office of exceptional children.

Under the revised state regulations, which add some guidelines and remove others, DuRant said she hopes to improve district monitoring and help them self-assess how students are served.

"If they look at their own data instead of us coming in and looking at their data and telling them what to do, then they're going to do a better job."

But some parents said they were wary of relying solely on the state's checks-and-balances systems to ensure special-education students receive necessary services.

Edward Manley of Rock Hill spoke to the state board before the official vote. While there are a number of good teachers in South Carolina, he said, wading through the special-education process has become a litigious nightmare for some parents.

Manley said the current state standards already lack proper oversight over districts.

"By not holding the schools accountable, we're just failing the children miserably," he said.

DuRant said officials will continue revising the regulations that determine eligibility for services through the next school year.

She said her office also will work on how to encourage more general-education teachers to participate in special-education training.

S.C. teachers are not required to participate in special-education training.

Manley said he hopes the state can enforce guidelines better under the new regulations.

"I hope that -- when we sit back as a collective body -- I hope that we can figure out a way to hold the state department and school districts accountable to make a good-faith effort."