.c The Associated Press
By ROBERT GREENE WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate overwhelmingly passed and sent to President Clinton today an updated bill guaranteeing an education for millions of disabled children. The measure also seeks to resolve important questions of classroom discipline and legal costs. The 98-1 vote brushed aside objections from a handful of lawmakers who said the bill does too little to protect other students and teachers from unruly, disabled students or hold down legal fees to schools. The vote ends more than two years of wrangling over how to update and extend the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. The 22-year-old civil rights law says children with disabilities should be brought into regular classrooms as much as possible. The House easily passed the measure on Tuesday, 420-3. The bill has the support of the Clinton administration. ``This legislation strengthens and reaffirms our commitment to these children and their parents, and I look forward to signing it into the law,'' Clinton said. The measure updates the law by giving schools more power to remove disabled students who threaten harm to others, limiting fees for parents' attorneys and encouraging mediation rather than court fights to settle disputes. ``This is an incredibly important piece of legislation that will do so much to straighten out the problems we've had to deal with with respect to special education in our schools,'' said Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt. and chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee. ``It gives much more flexibility in discipline in the schools. It takes cares of the numerous problems that we've had.'' However, the compromise didn't go far enough, say Sens. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., and Bob Smith, R.-N.H., who offered amendments that would subject disabled students to the same discipline that other students receive and would further restrict legal fees. ``The fundamental flaw is the double standard it sets both for disciplinary proceedings and for the classroom environment,'' Gorton said, complaining that the law already costs the nation $35 billion, with the federal government paying less than $4 billion. The Senate rejected both amendments before voting on final passage. The Education Department estimates that 5.8 million children ages 3 to 21 qualify as disabled. The law already calls for students who take guns to schools to be removed for up to 45 days while a final decision is made. For other offenses, the disabled child stays put if there is a disagreement between the school and the child's parents. The provision on guns would be extended to students who take knives, other weapons or drugs to school. Also, authorities could remove disabled children who otherwise posed a threat of harm to themselves or others, but only after a hearing - by an administrative officer, not a judge. A child whose conduct was not related to a disability would be disciplined like any other child. Still, school districts would have to continue the education of disabled children elsewhere. The bills would require states to offer voluntary mediation to resolve disputes. Parents would no longer get lawyers' fees for representation in routine matters but would if there was a dispute. Local schools could reduce spending for carrying out the law if Congress appropriates $4.1 billion for grants to states. States, by the same token, could not lower their contributions if the federal contribution rises. The funding formula would start to change once Congress raises funding to $4.9 billion. Instead of receiving funds based on the number of students classified as disabled, each state would get funds based on a population and poverty formula. This would discourage states from classifying children as disabled in order to get federal payments. This year, Congress has set aside $3.5 billion for grants. States and schools have complained the amount is less than 10 percent of what it actually costs to carry out the law's requirements, rather than the 40 percent specified in the law. Bill is H.R. 5 AP-NY-05-14-97 1101EDT
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