[Federal Register Volume 65, Number 111 (Thursday, June 8, 2000)]
[Notices]
[Pages 36585-36594]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 00-14485]



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Part IV





Department of Education





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Educating Blind and Visually Impaired Students; Policy Guidance; Notice

Federal Register / Vol. 65, No. 111 / Thursday, June 8, 2000 / 
Notices

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DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION


Educating Blind and Visually Impaired Students; Policy Guidance

AGENCY: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. 
Department of Education.

ACTION: Notice of policy guidance.

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SUMMARY: The Department issues this Notice of Policy Guidance (notice) 
to address the requirements of Part B of the Individuals with 
Disabilities Education Act, as amended by the Individuals with 
Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997, as they apply to the 
education of blind and visually impaired students. This notice updates 
OSEP memorandum 96-4, Policy Guidance on Educating Blind and Visually 
Impaired Students dated November 3, 1995, to reflect new and revised 
statutory provisions added by the IDEA Amendments of 1997 and 
conforming regulatory changes to implement those requirements. The 
Department issued guidance for the education of students who are deaf 
in the form of a Notice of Policy Guidance published in the Federal 
Register on October 30, 1992 (57 FR 49274). That policy guidance also 
is being updated for consistency with the IDEA Amendments of 1997.
    This notice provides important background information to educators 
in meeting their obligations to ensure that blind and visually impaired 
students receive appropriate educational services in the least 
restrictive environment appropriate to their unique needs. A 
description of procedural safeguards also is included to ensure that 
parents are knowledgeable about their rights, including their right to 
participate in decisions regarding the provision of services to their 
children.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rhonda Weiss or JoLeta Reynolds, U.S. 
Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, Mary E. 
Switzer Building, Room 3086, 330 C Street, SW, Washington, D.C. 20202. 
Telephone: (202) 205-5507. Individuals who use a telecommunications 
device for the deaf (TDD), may call (202) 205-5465.
    Individuals with disabilities may obtain this document in an 
alternate format (e.g. Braille, large print, audiotape, or computer 
diskette) on request to Katie Mincey, Director of the Alternate Formats 
Center, telephone (202) 205-8113.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: To respond to concerns that services for 
some blind and visually impaired students were not appropriate to 
address their unique educational and learning needs, particularly their 
needs for instruction in reading, writing, and composition, as well as 
orientation and mobility and other self-help skills, policy guidance on 
educating blind and visually impaired students was issued as OSEP 
memorandum 96-4 (November 3, 1995). This policy guidance provided some 
background information on these students and their unique needs, and 
applicable requirements of Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities 
Education Act (Part B) were explained.\1\
    In the reauthorization of the IDEA Amendments of 1997, Public Law 
105-17, Congress clarified public agencies' responsibilities in 
educating blind and visually impaired students in two important 
respects. Specifically, the reauthorized statute provides that 
Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams are required to make 
provision for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille for blind 
and visually impaired students, unless, based on relevant evaluations, 
the IEP team determines that instruction in Braille or the use of 
Braille is not appropriate.
    Also, reflecting an awareness that a blind or visually impaired 
individual's ability to move around independently is closely linked to 
the individual's self esteem, an amendment to the statutory definition 
of ``related services'' adds ``orientation and mobility services'' to 
the list of examples of supportive services specifically identified in 
the statute.
    The IDEA Amendments of 1997 contain other new requirements 
applicable to all children with disabilities, particularly in areas 
relating to requirements for evaluations and reevaluations, focusing 
IEPs on a student's meaningful involvement and progress in the general 
curriculum, and strengthening procedural safeguards and opportunities 
for parent participation in important educational decisions. Even with 
these significant statutory changes, the core concepts that were 
applicable prior to the enactment of the IDEA Amendments of 1997 
continue to apply.

Background

    The population of children who receive services under Part B 
because of blindness or visual impairment is extremely diverse. These 
children display a wide range of vision difficulties and varying 
adaptations to vision loss. With regard to degree of vision, the 
student population includes persons who are totally blind or persons 
with minimal light perception, as well as persons with varying degrees 
of low vision. For some individuals, blindness or visual impairment is 
their only disability, while for others, blindness or vision impairment 
is one of several identified disabilities that will affect, to varying 
degrees, learning and social integration. For example, some children 
who are blind or visually impaired also have hearing, orthopedic, 
emotional, or cognitive disabilities.
    In addition, persons with similar degrees of vision loss may 
function very differently. A significant visual deficit that could pose 
formidable obstacles for some children may pose far less formidable 
obstacles for others. This is because adaptations to vision loss are 
shaped by individual factors, such as availability and type of family 
support and degree of intellectual, emotional, physical, and motor 
functioning. Therefore, in addition to the nature and extent of vision 
loss, a variety of factors needs to be considered in designing an 
appropriate educational program for a blind or visually impaired child, 
and these factors could change over time.
    The challenge for educators of blind and visually impaired 
children, including those with other disabilities, is how to teach 
skills that sighted children typically acquire through vision. Blind 
and visually impaired students have used a variety of methods to learn 
to read, write, and acquire other skills, both academic and 
nonacademic. For example, for reading purposes, some students use 
Braille exclusively; others use large print or regular print with or 
without low vision aids. Still others use a combination of methods, 
including Braille, large print, low vision aids and devices with 
computer-generated speech, while others have sufficient functional 
vision to use regular print, although with difficulty.
    In order to receive an appropriate education under Part B, it is 
generally understood that students who are blind or visually impaired 
must be provided appropriate instruction in a variety of subjects, 
including language arts, composition, and science and mathematics. 
However, in order to be educated in these subject areas effectively, 
blind and visually impaired children must be taught the necessary 
skills to enable them to learn to read and to use other appropriate 
technology to obtain access to information. It also is very important 
for blind and visually impaired children, including those with other 
disabilities, who need orientation and mobility services, to receive 
appropriate instruction in orientation and mobility as early as 
possible. Providing these children with needed orientation and mobility 
services at the appropriate time increases the likelihood that they can 
participate meaningfully in a variety of aspects of their schooling, 
including academic,

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nonacademic, and extracurricular activities. Once these individuals are 
no longer in school, their use of acquired orientation and mobility 
skills should greatly enhance their ability to move around 
independently in a variety of educational, employment, and community 
settings. These skills also should enhance the ability of blind and 
visually impaired students to obtain employment, retain their jobs, and 
participate more fully in family and community life.
    This policy guidance contains an explanation of the provisions of 
Part B of IDEA as amended by the IDEA Amendments of 1997 and Department 
regulations that address public agencies' obligations in educating 
blind and visually impaired students. Statements that utilize the word 
``should'' constitute guidance and do not mean ``must,'' and are not 
intended to impose any new requirements that go beyond the requirements 
of the applicable statutory and regulatory provisions explained below.

Application of the Free Appropriate Public Education Requirements 
of Part B to Blind and Visually Impaired Students

A. In General

    Under Part B, each State and its public agencies must ensure that a 
free appropriate public education (FAPE) is made available to all 
children with specified disabilities residing in the State in mandatory 
age ranges, and that the rights and protections of Part B are afforded 
to those children and their parents. FAPE includes, among other 
elements, special education and related services that are provided at 
no cost to parents, under public supervision and direction, that meet 
State education standards and Part B requirements, that include an 
appropriate preschool, elementary, or secondary school education in the 
State involved, and that are provided in conformity with an 
individualized education program (IEP) that meets Part B 
requirements.\2\
    Consistent with this obligation to ensure FAPE, the Part B 
regulations also provide that the services and placement provided to a 
child with a disability under Part B must be based on all of the 
child's identified special education and related services needs, and 
not on the child's disability.\3\ This includes meeting the child's 
needs that result from identified disabilities other than blindness or 
visual impairment.

B. Evaluation Requirements

    Before the initial provision of special education and related 
services to a child with a disability under Part B, a full and 
individual initial evaluation must be conducted in accordance with 34 
CFR Secs. 300.532 and 300.533.\4\ The IDEA Amendments of 1997 require 
that a variety of assessment tools and strategies must be used in the 
evaluation process to gather relevant functional and developmental 
information about the child. This includes information provided by the 
parents, to assist in determining (1) whether the child is a child with 
a disability, and (2) the content of the child's IEP, including the 
extent to which the child can be involved and progress in the general 
curriculum, and for a child of preschool age, to participate in 
appropriate activities.\5\ Through the evaluation process, 
determinations also can be made about the range of accommodations and 
modifications necessary for a blind or visually impaired child to be 
involved and progress in the general curriculum, the same curriculum as 
for nondisabled children.
    An evaluation under Part B must assess the child in all areas 
related to the suspected disability, including, if appropriate, 
``health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general 
intelligence, academic performance, communicative status, and motor 
abilities.''\6\ In addition, the evaluation must be sufficiently 
comprehensive to identify all of the child's special education and 
related services needs, whether or not commonly linked to the 
disability category in which the child has been classified.\7\ Any 
standardized tests that are utilized for those assessments must be 
conducted by trained and knowledgeable personnel.\8\
    An assessment of a child's vision status generally would include 
the nature and extent of the child's visual impairment and its effect, 
for example, on the child's ability to learn to read, write, do 
mathematical calculations, and use computers and other assistive 
technology, as well as the child's ability to be involved in and 
progress in the general curriculum. For children with low vision, this 
type of assessment also generally should include an evaluation of the 
child's ability to utilize low vision aids, as well as a learning media 
assessment and a functional vision assessment. For children who are 
blind and for children who have low vision, consistent with the new 
statutory requirement regarding Braille instruction, the assessment of 
vision status generally would be closely linked to the assessment of 
the child's present and future reading and writing skills, needs, and 
appropriate reading and writing media. This information would be used 
by the IEP team in determining whether it would be inappropriate to 
provide a blind or visually impaired child with instruction in Braille 
or the use of Braille.\9\
    As required for children with other disabilities, appropriate 
assessments of blind and visually impaired children, including those 
with other disabilities, also must address each child's ability to be 
involved and progress in the general curriculum, the same curriculum as 
for nondisabled children. This information could be obtained, for 
example, from an assessment of academic performance that would focus on 
the child's ability to learn to read, including reading comprehension, 
and to learn composition, science and mathematics, and computing.
    As part of the evaluation process, it is especially important to 
address a blind or visually impaired child's ability to be involved and 
progress in the general curriculum, the same curriculum as for 
nondisabled children, particularly in situations where the child has 
other disabilities. This is because of the relationship of the 
evaluation to the child's IEP, which focuses specifically on 
participation in the general curriculum offered to nondisabled 
students, including the need for any supplementary aids and services, 
other accommodations, modifications, or devices to facilitate the blind 
or visually impaired child's involvement in the general curriculum. 
This information is needed regardless of whether a child will be 
educated in a regular classroom or in a separate classroom or 
school.\10\ The evaluation also should identify any necessary program 
modifications or supports for school personnel needed for a child or on 
behalf of a child to ensure that the child's unique needs arising from 
blindness or visual impairment or other identified disabilities are 
appropriately addressed in the IEP.
    Because of the importance for some blind and visually impaired 
students of acquiring the skills necessary to access information, 
additional assessments may be necessary to determine whether a child 
should receive specific instruction in listening skills. Possible 
assessments for this purpose could include assessments of hearing, 
general intelligence, or communicative status. A child's need for 
orientation and mobility services and the appropriate method or methods 
for acquiring the requisite skills also should be assessed, and this 
generally would be accomplished through an assessment of motor 
abilities, as well as vision and communicative status, which should be 
conducted as early as possible. This is

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especially important because parents and organizations representing the 
interests of blind and visually impaired individuals have reported 
that, in some instances, these students are not receiving appropriate 
orientation and mobility services and that appropriate evaluations of 
their needs for these services are not being conducted. In all 
instances, the results of all assessments administered to the child, 
including those administered to determine the child's needs resulting 
from one or more disabilities other than blindness or visual 
impairment, must be considered as the child's IEP is developed.\11\

C. IEP Development and Content Requirements

    The IDEA Amendments of 1997 make a number of significant changes to 
the Act's IEP requirements, which are applicable to all disabled 
students, including blind and visually impaired students.\12\ Under 
Part B, an IEP developed in accordance with 34 CFR Secs. 300.341-
300.350 is the essence of each child's entitlement to a FAPE. The IDEA 
Amendments of 1997 clarify that each child's IEP must (1) relate the 
child's education to the child's involvement and progress in the 
general curriculum, the same curriculum as for nondisabled children, 
and (2) address unique needs arising out of the child's disability or 
disabilities. The IDEA Amendments of 1997 also require that IEPs for 
disabled children, including blind and visually impaired children, 
contain a statement of measurable annual goals, including benchmarks or 
short-term objectives.\13\ The annual goals must be related to (1) 
meeting the child's needs that result from the disability, or 
disabilities, to enable the child to be involved in and progress in the 
general curriculum, and (2) meeting each of the child's other 
educational needs that result from the child's disability, or 
disabilities.
    With regard to these criteria for developing annual goals, IEP 
teams for blind and visually impaired children must ensure that those 
children can appropriately access the general curriculum offered to 
nondisabled children, and that unique needs relating to the child's 
blindness or visual impairment or other identified disabilities are 
addressed.\14\ Therefore, if IEP teams identify educational needs of 
individual children arising from their blindness or visual impairment 
or other disability, that the general curriculum does not sufficiently 
address, those specific needs must be addressed.\15\ For example, if a 
particular student has little or no skill in Braille reading and 
writing, the IEP team may conclude that more frequent and intensive 
instruction in Braille likely would be necessary before the student 
could be fully involved and make meaningful progress in the general 
curriculum offered to nondisabled children. In addition, once the 
child's initial need for Braille instruction has been met, the IEP team 
should periodically make a determination of the child's ability to be 
involved and progress in the general curriculum, and the extent to 
which continued intensive Braille instruction and other accommodations 
would be needed.
    The IDEA Amendments of 1997 include specific requirements regarding 
including children with disabilities in general State and district-wide 
assessment programs, with appropriate accommodations and modifications 
in administration, if necessary.\16\ For example, each child's IEP must 
include a statement of any individual modifications in the 
administration of State or district-wide assessments of student 
achievement that are needed for the child to participate in the 
assessment. Also, if the IEP team determines that a child will not 
participate in a particular assessment or part of an assessment, the 
IEP must include a statement of why that assessment is not appropriate 
for the child, and how the child will be assessed.\17\
    Consistent with the emphasis in the IDEA Amendments of 1997 on 
relating the child's IEP to the child's involvement and progress in the 
general curriculum, IEP teams must ensure that blind and visually 
impaired students, including those with other disabilities, receive 
appropriate instructional accommodations and modifications. Providing 
appropriate instructional accommodations and modifications will help 
prepare these students to participate in State or district-wide 
assessments of student achievement with appropriate accommodations or 
individual modifications in test administration.
    The IDEA Amendments of 1997 also require the development of 
guidelines for use of alternate assessments, which are used if an IEP 
team determines that an individual child cannot participate in regular 
assessments, even with appropriate accommodations or individual 
modifications in test administration.\18\ However, it is expected that 
if IEP teams properly make individualized determinations about what 
testing accommodations or individual modifications in test 
administration are appropriate for a child, it should be necessary to 
use alternate assessments for a relatively small percentage of children 
with disabilities. In addition, if the purpose of a test is to measure 
a student's ability to read, States need to be able to test to 
determine whether blind or visually impaired students, whose primary 
reading medium is not standard print, can read, whether by providing 
them with a Braille or large print version of the test, or through some 
other means, as appropriate.
    Each child's IEP must be developed by an IEP team, that is, a group 
of individuals that includes:
     The parents of the child;
     At least one regular education teacher of the child if the 
child is, or may be, participating in the regular education 
environment;
     At least one special education teacher of the child, or, 
if appropriate, at least one special education provider of the child;
     A public agency representative who is qualified to provide 
or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction, is 
knowledgeable about the general curriculum, and about the availability 
of resources of the public agency;
     An individual who can interpret the instructional 
implications of evaluation results, who may be another member of the 
IEP team;
     At the discretion of the parent or the agency, other 
individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the 
child, including related services personnel as appropriate; and,
     If appropriate, the child.\19\
    Public agencies must ensure that students are invited to attend IEP 
meetings if the participation of the student would be appropriate.
    For IEP meetings involving transition services, there are 
additional requirements. The Part B regulations provide that the public 
agency must invite a student with a disability of any age to attend his 
or her IEP meeting if a purpose of the meeting will be the 
consideration of either the student's transition services needs, the 
statement of needed transition services for the student, or both. In 
these situations, if the student does not attend the meeting, the 
public agency must ensure that the student's preferences and interests 
are considered. If another agency would likely be responsible for 
providing or paying for needed transition services, the public agency 
must ensure that a representative of that agency is invited to the 
meeting.\20\ The public agency responsible for the student's education 
generally must initiate and conduct meetings for the purpose of 
developing, reviewing, and, if necessary, revising the IEP, or the 
individualized family

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service plan (IFSP), of a child with a disability. The public agency 
must ensure that the child's IEP team (1) reviews the child's IEP 
periodically, but not less than annually, to determine whether the 
child's annual goals are being achieved, and (2) revises the IEP as 
appropriate.\21\
    An IFSP, the written plan for providing early intervention services 
under Part C of IDEA to an infant or toddler with disabilities and his 
or her family, may serve as the IEP for a child with a disability aged 
3 through 5 (or at the discretion of the State educational agency, a 2-
year-old child with a disability who will turn age 3 during the school 
year). For this to occur, the IFSP must contain the material described 
in section 636 of the Act, and must be developed in accordance with 
Secs. 300.341-300.346 and Secs. 300.349-300.350. In addition, using the 
IFSP to serve as the IEP must be consistent with State policy and 
agreed to by the agency and the child's parents.\22\ If an IFSP is to 
be used, the public agency must provide the child's parents a detailed 
explanation of the differences between an IFSP and an IEP and must 
obtain written, informed parental consent to use an IFSP.\23\

D. Special Factors in IEP Development

    In developing IEPs, the IDEA Amendments of 1997 require IEP teams 
to consider a range of special factors. The following two factors are 
particularly relevant for blind and visually impaired students.
1. Instruction in Braille and the Use of Braille
    One of the most serious concerns voiced by parents of blind or 
visually impaired children and their advocates, as well as by adults 
who are blind or visually impaired, is that the number of students 
receiving instruction in Braille has decreased significantly over the 
past several decades. As a result, these individuals believe that 
Braille instruction is not being provided to some students for whom it 
may be appropriate. Braille has been a very effective reading and 
writing medium for many blind and visually impaired persons, and 
knowledge of Braille provides numerous tangible and intangible 
benefits, including increased likelihood of obtaining productive 
employment and heightened self-esteem.
    The IDEA Amendments of 1997, therefore, include a specific 
provision with regard to instruction in Braille and the use of Braille 
and state:

The IEP team must--* * * (iii) in the case of a child who is blind or 
visually impaired, provide for instruction in Braille and the use of 
Braille unless the IEP team determines, after an evaluation of the 
child's reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and 
writing media (including an evaluation of the child's future needs for 
instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in 
Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child; \24\

    This statutory provision requires IEP teams to make provision for 
instruction in Braille or the use of Braille, unless it is determined, 
after appropriate evaluations of the child's reading and writing needs, 
that this instruction is not appropriate for a particular child. 
Decisions about instruction in Braille and the use of Braille must be 
made on a case-by-case basis, consistent with the individual needs of a 
particular child. In developing IEPs for children with low vision, even 
for those with a high degree of functional vision, IEP teams also must 
consider evaluations of the child's need for instruction in Braille and 
the use of Braille, and must make provision for such instruction unless 
it is determined, after appropriate evaluation, to be inappropriate for 
the child. Factors such as shortages of trained personnel to provide 
Braille instruction, the availability of alternative reading media, 
such as large print, recorded materials, or computers with speech 
output, or the amount of time needed to provide a child with sufficient 
and regular instruction to attain proficiency in Braille or the use of 
Braille, may not be used to deny Braille instruction to a child for 
whom that instruction has not been determined individually to be 
inappropriate. Once the IEP team includes instruction in Braille in the 
IEP, this instruction, as is true for other aspects of the child's IEP, 
must be implemented as soon as possible following the child's IEP 
meeting.\25\
    For a child to become proficient in Braille, systematic and regular 
instruction from knowledgeable and appropriately trained personnel is 
essential. For blind and visually impaired children, including those 
with other disabilities, IEP teams must ensure that the instructional 
time allocated for Braille instruction is adequate to provide the level 
of instruction determined appropriate for the child. IEP teams also 
must ensure, as discussed more fully below, that appropriate assistive 
technology is provided to facilitate necessary Braille instruction. 
Likewise, for children with low vision, instruction in the appropriate 
utilization of functional vision and in the effective use of low vision 
aids requires regular and intensive intervention from knowledgeable and 
appropriately trained personnel.
    IEP teams also must consider the method or methods for teaching 
blind and visually impaired children, including those with other 
disabilities, how to write and compose. Children whose reading medium 
is Braille likely will use Braille for these purposes. For composition, 
however, in addition to writing Braille manually, these children also 
may benefit from using assistive technology devices, such as a personal 
computer with speech output or a Braille display. IEP teams must make 
individualized determinations about the needs of blind and visually 
impaired children, including those with other disabilities, for 
instruction in writing and composition, and must include effective 
methods for teaching writing and composition, including the appropriate 
use of assistive technology, in the IEPs of these students.
    In addition to mastering the skills taught to all children, blind 
and visually impaired children, including those with other 
disabilities, must receive instruction in the skills that the IEP team 
determines are necessary for the child to obtain access to information 
needed to participate in the general curriculum, as a supplement to 
instruction in the reading method determined appropriate for the child. 
The skills that could be taught to access information include use of 
cassette recordings, including recordings that utilize compressed 
speech, personal computers with speech output or a Braille display, and 
optical scanners with speech output. Use of these devices, methods, and 
services should be considered on an individual basis to supplement 
Braille instruction for students for whom Braille is the primary 
reading medium, or to supplement print or large print for children 
using print as their primary reading medium. While instruction in the 
skills necessary to access information is extremely important, local 
educational agencies also are required by Part B and Section 504 to 
provide instructional materials in the format determined appropriate 
for the child by the IEP team to enable the child to participate in the 
public agency's program.\26\
    In addition, for most students who are blind or visually impaired, 
including those with other disabilities, the development of skills 
related to future employment, vocational training, or postsecondary 
education, such as the use of reader services, would be appropriate. 
For example, reader

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services have proven to be vital for the workplace success of many 
adults who are blind or visually impaired. As appropriate, IEP teams 
should consider making reader services available, as well as providing 
instruction in the skills necessary to the effective use of those 
services. In considering whether reader services or other services 
related to the workplace success of these students would be 
appropriate, IEP teams should consider whether those services would be 
necessary to supplement the techniques that the student already may be 
receiving to access information, or necessary for the student's 
successful transition from school to post-school activities.
2. Assistive Technology
    The IDEA Amendments of 1997 continue to recognize the importance of 
assistive technology in the education of children with disabilities, 
and specify assistive technology as one of the special factors that IEP 
teams must consider in IEP development.\27\ Issues related to accessing 
information frequently arise in the education of blind and visually 
impaired students, as well as those with other disabilities. Therefore, 
it is especially important that IEP teams for blind and visually 
impaired students give appropriate consideration to these students' 
needs for assistive technology and the full range of assistive 
technology devices and services that are available for them, and this 
consideration needs to occur as early as possible. As is true for 
students with other disabilities, a blind or visually impaired 
student's ability to become proficient in the use of appropriate 
assistive technology could have a positive effect on the development of 
the student's overall self-confidence and self-esteem. Students taught 
the skills necessary to address their disability-specific needs are 
more capable of participating meaningfully in the general curriculum 
offered to nondisabled students.
    The Department's regulations also provide that, on a case-by-case 
basis, consideration of the use of school-purchased assistive 
technology devices in a child's home or in other settings may be 
required. If the child's IEP team determines that the child needs to 
have access to a school-purchased device at home or in another setting 
in order to receive FAPE, a statement to this effect must be included 
in the child's IEP, the child's IEP must be implemented as written, and 
the device must be provided at no cost to the parents.\28\
    In meeting the assistive technology needs of blind and visually 
impaired students, public agencies may use whatever State, local, 
Federal, and private sources of support available in the State to 
finance required services.\29\ To obtain information about assistive 
technology, including information about assistive technology that could 
be used to assist in the education of blind and visually impaired 
students, public agencies may wish to consult the Assistive Technology 
Act of 1998 (Tech Act) project that serves their State.\30\ In making 
assistive technology purchases, public agencies also need to ensure 
that they comply with applicable requirements of Federal law, including 
Section 504, Title II of the ADA, and the Tech Act.\31\

E. Orientation and Mobility Services

    For some blind and visually impaired children, the inability to 
move around independently can be a formidable obstacle to participating 
in school, family, and community life. In some instances, blind and 
visually impaired individuals have felt discouraged from seeking 
employment opportunities because of their inability to get to the job 
or negotiate the work environment once on the job, or because of their 
fears that this will be the case. Still in other instances, some blind 
and visually impaired individuals have been denied access to employment 
opportunities because of employers' misperceptions that the individual 
will be unable to get around without sighted assistance. Therefore, 
acquisition of orientation and mobility skills, like the acquisition of 
other skills such as academic and social skills, is of great importance 
to the social and economic independence of blind and visually impaired 
persons.
    Orientation and mobility services are generally recognized as 
encompassing distinctive strategies particular to the educational needs 
of blind or visually impaired students. The IDEA Amendments of 1997 
amended the list of examples of ``related services'' contained in the 
statute to include ``orientation and mobility services.'' \32\ The term 
``orientation and mobility services'' is defined in the Part B 
regulations, at 34 CFR Sec. 300.24(b)(6), as follows:
    (i) * * * services provided to blind or visually impaired students 
by qualified personnel to enable those students to attain systematic 
orientation to and safe movement within their environments in school, 
home, and community; and
    (ii) Includes teaching students the following, as appropriate:
    (A) Spatial and environmental concepts and use of information 
received by the senses (such as sound, temperature and vibrations) to 
establish, maintain, or regain orientation and line of travel (e.g., 
using sound at a traffic light to cross the street);
    (B) To use the long cane to supplement visual travel skills or as a 
tool for safely negotiating the environment for students with no 
available travel vision;
    (C) To understand and use remaining vision and distance low vision 
aids; and
    (D) Other concepts, techniques, and tools.
    The responsible public agency must ensure that orientation and 
mobility services are provided by trained and knowledgeable personnel 
who meet appropriate State qualification standards. In some instances, 
these personnel will need to be qualified to work with blind and 
visually impaired students who, in addition to their blindness or 
visual impairments, have other physical, sensory, or emotional 
disabilities. Because the need for safe movement throughout their 
school, home, and community environments is of critical importance for 
blind and visually impaired students, and because inadequate skill in 
this area could have an adverse impact on the ability of some blind and 
visually impaired persons to obtain appropriate employment, orientation 
and mobility services should be considered for each blind and visually 
impaired child. The extent to which orientation and mobility services 
are necessary for an individual child and, if so, the amount and 
duration of those services that are necessary for a child to receive 
FAPE are decisions for the child's IEP team. If a blind or visually 
impaired child has other disabilities, such as hearing, motor, or 
emotional disabilities, the child's unique disability-specific needs 
arising from those other disabilities also must be considered in 
designing an appropriate program of orientation and mobility services 
for the child. Orientation and mobility services should be provided as 
early as possible in a child's education, and updated or supplemented 
periodically, as needed. For example, while it may not be appropriate 
to teach a very young child how to cross a busy street, a very young 
child still could be taught the skills necessary to move around inside 
a school building. As students mature, it might be appropriate, 
depending on individual factors, for the student to be taught how to 
cross a busy street. Therefore, IEP teams need to be aware of 
individual factors that would affect the nature and extent to which 
orientation and mobility services may be needed for a particular 
student.
    For some children with disabilities such as children with 
significant cognitive disabilities, ``travel training

[[Page 36591]]

* * * is often an integral part of their special educational program in 
order for them to receive FAPE and be prepared for post-school 
activities, including employment and independent living.'' \33\ 
Providing blind or visually impaired students, particularly those with 
other disabilities, with travel training also could facilitate their 
fuller integration into their communities in and outside of school, 
both during and following their school attendance. Therefore, the 
definition of ``special education'' has been amended at 34 CFR 
Sec. 300.26(a)(2)(ii) to include ``travel training,'' and the pertinent 
definition reads as follows:
    Travel training means providing instruction, as appropriate, to 
children with significant cognitive disabilities, and any other 
children with disabilities who require this instruction, to enable them 
to--
    (i) Develop an awareness of the environment in which they live; and
    (ii) Learn the skills necessary to move effectively and safely from 
place to place within that environment (e.g., in school, in the home, 
at work, and in the community).\34\
    Since the importance of travel training has been recognized for 
children with disabilities, such as children with significant cognitive 
disabilities, IEP teams for blind and visually impaired students, 
particularly those with significant cognitive disabilities, may need to 
consider these students' need for travel training, as appropriate. 
Travel training is often integral to ensuring that some children with 
disabilities receive FAPE and are prepared for post-school activities 
such as employment and independent living. Travel training is important 
to enable these students to attain systematic orientation to and safe 
movement within their environment in school, at home, at work and in 
the community.\35\

F. Additional Factors in IEP Development

    The following needs \36\ also may need to be considered and 
appropriately addressed by the child's IEP team to ensure a child's 
appropriate access to the general curriculum:
     Compensatory skills, such as communication and listening 
modalities;
     Extended school year services, if determined necessary to 
provide FAPE to the student; \37\
     Social interaction skills;
     Recreation and leisure skills;
     Career education; and
     For students with low vision, visual efficiency skills.
    This list is not intended to be exhaustive. A child's IEP team 
could determine that it would be appropriate to consider an individual 
child's need for other skills or services, in addition to those listed 
above. Therefore, in making decisions about the educational programs 
for a blind or visually impaired child, as is true for other disabled 
children, IEP teams must consider the full range of skills and services 
necessary for the child to receive FAPE, and to be involved and 
progress in the general curriculum, as appropriate.

Least Restrictive Environment and Provision of Services 
Requirements

    Part B requires States to have policies and procedures for ensuring 
that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities are 
educated with children who are not disabled, and that special classes, 
separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from 
the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or 
severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes 
with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved 
satisfactorily.\38\ This requirement is known as the least restrictive 
environment (LRE) requirement. Consistent with this LRE principle, the 
IDEA Amendments of 1997 require that each child's IEP contain an 
explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not be 
educated and participate with nondisabled children in the regular class 
and in academic, extracurricular and other nonacademic activities.\39\ 
Department regulations also provide that a child with a disability is 
not removed from education in age-appropriate regular classrooms solely 
because of needed modifications in the general curriculum for that 
child.\40\
    Thus, before a disabled child can be removed from the regular 
classroom, the placement team, which includes the child's parents, must 
consider whether the child can be educated in less restrictive settings 
with the use of appropriate supplementary aids and services and make a 
more restrictive placement only when they conclude that education in 
the less restrictive setting with appropriate supplementary aids and 
services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.\41\
    Recognizing that the regular classroom may not be the LRE placement 
for every disabled student, the Part B regulations require public 
agencies to make available a continuum of alternative placements or a 
range of placement options, to meet the needs of students with 
disabilities for special education and related services. The options on 
this continuum include instruction in regular classes, special classes, 
special schools, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and 
institutions. In addition, the continuum must make provision for 
supplementary services (such as resource room or itinerant instruction) 
to be provided in conjunction with regular class placement.\42\
    Part B also requires that each child's placement must be based on 
the child's IEP.\43\ That is why placement decisions cannot be made 
before a student's IEP is developed. Rather, it is the child's IEP that 
forms the basis for the placement decision. This means, for example, 
that the statement of the special education and related services and 
supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child, or on 
behalf of the child, the statement of the program modifications or 
supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child, and 
the explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not 
participate with nondisabled children in regular classes and other 
academic, nonacademic and extracurricular activities, form the basis 
for the placement decision. Under Part B, the IEP team for each child 
with a disability must make an individualized determination regarding 
how the child will participate in the general curriculum, including 
supports needed for the child, and what, if any, educational needs will 
not be met through involvement in the general curriculum. If, in the 
evaluation process, full consideration has been given to the range of 
accommodations and modifications that might be needed for the blind or 
visually impaired student, including a student who has other 
disabilities, such as a hearing impairment or an emotional disability, 
to access the general curriculum offered to nondisabled students, 
information about those needs should be readily available to the IEP 
team. After the student's IEP is developed, the placement 
determination, that is, the determination as to the setting in which 
services will be provided, must be made on an individual basis, 
consistent with the student's IEP and the Act's LRE requirements.
    The IDEA Amendments of 1997 specify that the placement decision is 
made by a group of persons, including the parents, and other persons 
knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the evaluation data, and 
the placement options.\44\ Public agencies and parent training and 
information centers should take steps to ensure that parents of blind 
and visually impaired

[[Page 36592]]

students are informed about available placement options for their 
child, including those addressing unique needs arising from a child's 
blindness or visual impairment and other disabilities, if applicable, 
and other identified educational needs. This will help to ensure that 
parents can provide meaningful input to the group making the placement 
decision.
    The overriding rule in placement is that each student's placement 
must be determined on an individual basis.\45\ In addition, as is true 
for students with other disabilities, the potential harmful effect of 
the placement on the blind or visually impaired student, or the quality 
of services he or she needs, must be considered in determining the 
LRE.\46\ As in other situations, placements of blind and visually 
impaired students, including those with other disabilities, may not be 
based solely on factors such as category of disability, significance of 
disability, availability of special education and related services, 
availability of space, configuration of the service delivery system, or 
administrative convenience.\47\
    In implementing Part B's LRE requirements, in some instances, 
placement decisions are inappropriately made before IEPs that address a 
child's unique needs are developed. Individual determinations of 
appropriate special education and related services, supplementary aids 
and services, and program modifications and supports for school 
personnel must be made through the IEP process, which must address the 
development of skills necessary for a student to cope with the impact 
of blindness or low vision or other identified disabilities on the 
student's ability to learn and to be involved and progress in the 
general curriculum. Since Part B requires that each child's placement 
must be based on his or her IEP, making placement decisions before a 
student's IEP is developed is a practice that violates Part B and could 
result in the denial of FAPE in the LRE.
    Still in other instances, some students have been inappropriately 
placed in the regular classroom although it has been determined that 
their IEPs cannot be appropriately implemented in the regular classroom 
even with the necessary and appropriate supplementary aids and 
services. In these situations, the nature of the student's disability 
and individual needs could make it appropriate for the student to be 
placed in a setting outside of the regular classroom in order to ensure 
that the student's IEP is satisfactorily implemented. By contrast, 
there are other instances where some blind and visually impaired 
students have been inappropriately placed in settings other than the 
regular classroom, even though their IEPs could have been implemented 
satisfactorily in the regular classroom with the provision of 
appropriate supplementary aids and services. As is true for all 
educational decisions under Part B, these concerns about the 
misapplication of the LRE requirements for blind and visually impaired 
students underscore the importance of making individual placement 
determinations based on each student's unique abilities and needs.
    In making placement determinations regarding children who are blind 
or visually impaired, it is essential that groups making decisions 
regarding the setting in which appropriate services are provided 
consider the full range of settings that could be appropriate depending 
on the individual needs of the blind or visually impaired student, 
including needs that arise from any other identified disabilities that 
the student may have. The following are some examples:

     A regular classroom with needed support services 
provided in that classroom by an itinerant teacher or by a special 
education teacher assigned to that school;
     The regular classroom with services provided outside 
the classroom by an itinerant teacher or by a special education 
teacher assigned to that school;
     A self-contained classroom in a regular school that 
provides services that address needs arising from the student's 
blindness or visual impairment as well as other identified 
disabilities, if applicable; and
     A special school with a residential component that 
provides services that address the full range of the blind or 
visually impaired student's disability-specific needs, including 
those arising from other disabilities, if applicable.

Procedural Safeguards

    Part B also requires that public agencies afford parents of 
children with disabilities an array of procedural safeguards. These 
include giving parents written notice, in language understandable to 
the general public and in the native language of the parent or other 
mode of communication used by the parent unless it is clearly not 
feasible to do so. This written notice must be given a reasonable time 
before a public agency proposes or refuses to initiate, or change, the 
identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or 
the provision of a free appropriate public education to the child. 
Included in this notice, among other components, are a description of 
the action proposed or refused by the agency, an explanation of why the 
agency proposes or refuses to take the action, a description of any 
options the agency considered and the reasons why those options were 
rejected, a description of any evaluation procedure, test, record, or 
report the agency used as a basis for the proposed or refused action, 
and sources for parents to contact, such as parent training and 
information centers or Protection and Advocacy entities or other 
advocacy organizations, to gain assistance in understanding the 
provisions of the Act.\48\ The requirement to provide a description of 
any option considered includes a description of the types of placements 
that were actually considered for the child, e.g., regular class 
placement with needed supplementary aids and services, regular 
classroom with pull-out services, special school, and the reasons why 
these placement options were rejected. Providing this kind of 
information to parents will enable them to play a more knowledgeable 
and informed role in the education of their children.
    Informed parental consent must be obtained before conducting an 
initial evaluation or reevaluation, with certain limited exceptions, 
and before the initial provision of special education and related 
services to a child with a disability.\49\ Section 300.500(b)(1) of the 
Part B regulations defines ``consent'' to mean that the parent has been 
fully informed of the activity for his or her consent has been sought 
in his or her native language or other mode of communication.
    The IDEA Amendments of 1997 also require public agencies to give 
parents a copy of a notice of procedural safeguards available to 
parents under Part B, written in language understandable to the general 
public and provided in the native language of the parent or other mode 
of communication used by the parent, unless it is clearly not feasible 
to do so. Such a notice must be provided prior to an initial referral 
of a child for evaluation, before an IEP meeting, before a 
reevaluation, and upon receipt of a request for a due process hearing. 
This notice, among other matters, must inform parents of their right to 
file a complaint under the State complaint procedures at 34 CFR 
Secs. 300.660-300.662, as well as their right to seek mediation or 
request a due process hearing.\50\ Part B affords parents and public 
educational agencies the right to initiate an impartial due process 
hearing on any matter regarding the identification, evaluation, or 
educational placement of the child, or the provision of a free 
appropriate public education to the child.\51\

[[Page 36593]]

    The IDEA Amendments of 1997 provide that, when a parent requests a 
due process hearing on matters involving the identification, 
evaluation, or educational placement of the child or the provision of 
FAPE to the child, the public agency must inform the parents of the 
availability of mediation as a means to resolve the dispute. Mediation, 
at a minimum, must be available whenever an impartial due process 
hearing is requested. The mediation process must be voluntary on the 
part of the parties, not be used to deny or delay a parent's right to a 
due process hearing or any other rights afforded under Part B of the 
Act, and be conducted by a qualified and impartial mediator who is 
trained in effective mediation techniques.\52\
    Disagreements between parents and public agencies over issues such 
as the extent that Braille instruction should be included in a child's 
IEP, or the educational setting in which the child's IEP should be 
implemented, are examples of some of the matters that can be the 
subject of mediation or an impartial due process hearing. The use of 
mediation is strongly encouraged, since its use could eliminate the 
need to utilize the Act's due process procedures to resolve the 
dispute. Public agencies need to inform parents of all children with 
disabilities, including parents of blind and visually impaired 
students, about their right to initiate a due process hearing if 
agreement cannot be reached on important educational decisions, as well 
as their right to file a complaint under the State complaint procedures 
at 34 CFR Secs. 300.660-300.662 of the Part B regulations, including a 
description of how to file a complaint and the timelines under those 
procedures.

Electronic Access to This Document

    You may view this document, as well as all other Department of 
Education documents published in the Federal Register, in text or Adobe 
Portable Document Format (PDF) on the Internet at either of the 
following sites:

http://ocfo.ed.gov/fedreg.htm
http://www.ed.gov/news.html

To use the PDF you must have the Adobe Acrobat Reader Program with 
Search, which is available free at either of the preceding sites. If 
you have questions about using the PDF, call the U.S. Government 
Printing Office (GPO), toll free, at 1-800-293-6498; or in the 
Washington, D.C., area at (202) 512-1530.

    Note: The official version of this document is the document 
published in the Federal Register. Free Internet access to the 
official edition of the Federal Register and the Code of Federal 
Regulations is available on GPO Access at:

http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/index.html.

    Authority: 20 U.S.C. 1411-1420; 29 U.S.C. 794.

    Dated: June 5, 2000.
Richard W. Riley,
Secretary of Education.

Appendix

    \1\ Two other related Federal laws also are applicable to the 
education of blind and visually impaired students. Section 504 of 
the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (Section 504), 29 U.S.C. 
794 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 
(Title II of the ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12131, are civil rights laws that 
protect persons with disabilities from discrimination on the basis 
of disability. The Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) 
enforces Section 504, as it applies to recipients of Federal 
financial assistance from the Department. OCR also enforces Title II 
of the ADA, as it applies to public entities, regardless of receipt 
of Federal funds. Under Section 504 and its implementing regulations 
at 34 CFR Part 104, children with disabilities in public elementary 
and secondary education programs operated by recipients of Federal 
financial assistance are entitled to a free appropriate public 
education in accordance with the Section 504 regulations at 34 CFR 
104.33-104.36. With respect to elementary and secondary education 
programs, OCR generally interprets Title II of the ADA and its 
prohibition against discrimination on the basis of disability in a 
manner consistent with Section 504 and its regulations. The IDEA 
requirements described in this Notice are consistent with 
recipients' and public entities' obligations to provide FAPE to 
blind and visually impaired students under Section 504 and Title II 
of the ADA.
    For further information about the requirements of Section 504 
and Title II of the ADA, as they apply to the education of blind and 
visually impaired students, contact the OCR Customer Service Team at 
the following address and telephone number: OCR Customer Service 
Team, U.S. Department of Education, 330 C Street, S.W. Room 5212, 
Washington, D.C. 20202-1100, Telephone: (202) 205-5413; (202) 260-
0471 for TTD services, Toll Free: 1-800-421-3481. Fax: (202) 205-
9862, E-mail: [email protected].
    \2\ 20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(1) and 34 CFR 300.121; 20 U.S.C. 1401(8) 
and 34 CFR 300.13.
    \3\ 34 CFR 300.300(a)(3)(i)-(ii).
    \4\ 34 CFR 300.531.
    \5\ 34 CFR 300.532(b).
    \6\ 34 CFR 300.532(g).
    \7\ 34 CFR 300.532(h).
    \8\ 20 U.S.C. 1414(b)(3)(B)(i) and 34 CFR 300.532(c)(1)(ii).
    \9\ See 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(3)(B)(iii).
    \10\ 34 CFR 300.532(b)(1)-(2); see also Appendix A to 34 CFR 
Part 300, question 2 (Appendix A), 64 FR at 12472 (Mar. 12, 1999).
    \11\ The IEP is a written statement for a child with a 
disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised at a meeting in 
accordance with the requirements of 34 CFR 300.341-300.350. See 34 
CFR 300.340(a).
    \12\ For a fuller explanation of IEP and other requirements of 
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997, 
see Notice of Interpretation, Appendix A to 34 CFR Part 300, 
published at 64 FR 12406, 12469 (Mar. 12, 1999).
    \13\ 34 CFR 300.347(a)(2).
    \14\ See National Agenda for the Education of Children and 
Youths with Vision Impairments, including Multiple Disabilities, AFB 
Press (1995).
    \15\ 34 CFR 300.347(a)(2); Appendix A, question 2, 64 FR at 
12472 (Mar. 12, 1999).
    \16\ 34 CFR 300.138(a).
    \17\ 34 CFR 300.347(a)(5)(i)-(ii).
    \18\ 34 CFR 300.138(b); see also Attachment 1, 64 FR at 12564 
(Mar. 12, 1999).
    \19\ 34 CFR 300.344(a)(1)-(7).
    \20\ 34 CFR 300.344(b).
    \21\ 34 CFR 300.343(c).
    \22\ 34 CFR 300.343(a) and 300.342(c).
    \23\ 34 CFR 300.342(c)(2).
    \24\ 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(3)(B)(iii) and 34 CFR 300.346(a)(2)(iii).
    \25\ 34 CFR 300.342(b)(1)(ii).
    \26\ See Analysis of Comments and Changes, published as 
Attachment 1 to 34 CFR Part 300 (Attachment 1), 64 FR at 12590 (Mar. 
12, 1999).
    \27\ 34 CFR 300.346(a)(2)(v).
    \28\ 34 CFR 300.308(b); Appendix A, question 36, 64 FR at 12479 
(Mar. 12, 1999).
    \29\ 34 CFR 300.301(a). See also 34 CFR 300.244 regarding an 
LEA's obligations to use up to 5 percent of the amount the agency 
receives in any fiscal year in combination with other amounts other 
than education funds to develop and implement a coordinated services 
system designed to improve results for children and families; OSEP 
memorandum 00-7 dated January 13, 2000 to State Directors of Special 
Education, entitled Enhancing Coordinated Services Systems among 
LEAs and SEAs.
    \30\ For a complete list, see a project sponsored by the 
National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research 
(NIDRR), a component of the Office of Special Education and 
Rehabilitative Services, at http://www.resna.org/taproject/at/statecontacts.html
    \31\ See the October 9, 1997 ``Dear Colleague'' letter from the 
Secretary and the attached technical assistance packet. For guidance 
on standards that the Department uses for its suppliers, see 
Requirements for Accessible Software Design, 1997, at http://gcs.ed.gov/coninfo/clibrary/software.htm
    \32\ 20 U.S.C. 1401(22).
    \33\ See Attachment 1, 64 FR at 12549 (Mar. 12, 1999).
    \34\ 34 CFR 300.26(a)(4).
    \35\ See Attachment 1, 64 FR at 12549 (Mar. 12, 1999).
    \36\ National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youth 
with Visual Impairments, including Multiple Disabilities, AFB Press, 
at p. 14 (1995).
    \37\ 34 CFR 300.309.
    \38\ 34 CFR 300.550(b).
    \39\ 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(A)(iv) and 34 CFR 300.347(a)(3)-(4); 
Appendix A, question 1, 64 FR at 12471 (Mar. 12, 1999).
    \40\ 34 CFR 300.552(e).
    \41\ 34 CFR 300.550(b); Attachment 1, 64 FR at 12638 (Mar. 12, 
1999).

[[Page 36594]]

    \42\ 34 CFR 300.551(b).
    \43\ 34 CFR 300.552(b)(2). That regulation requires that each 
child's placement is determined at least annually, is based on his 
or her IEP, and is in the school or facility as close as possible to 
the child's home. 34 CFR 300.552(b)(1)-(3). Further, unless a 
disabled student's IEP requires some other arrangement, the child is 
educated in the school that he or she would attend if nondisabled. 
34 CFR 300.552(c).
    \44\ 20 U.S.C. 1414(f) and 34 CFR 300.501(c) and 300.552(a).
    \45\ See 34 CFR 300.552.
    \46\ 34 CFR 300.552(d).
    \47\ Appendix A, question 1, 64 FR 12406 at 12471 (Mar. 12, 
1999).
    \48\ 34 CFR 300.503(a)(1) and (b)(2)-(4), and (7).
    \49\ 34 CFR 300.505(a)(1).
    \50\ 34 CFR 300.504.
    \51\ 34 CFR 300.507(a).
    \52\ 34 CFR 300.507(a)(2), 300.506(a)(2) and (b).

[FR Doc. 00-14485 Filed 6-7-00; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4000-01-U