The IDEA and its implementing regulations require districts to provide students with disabilities assistive technology devices and services as well as related services to enable them to benefit from special education and receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Prior to the 2006 regulations implementing the 2004 IDEA amendments, courts disagreed as to whether these provisions required districts to provide mapping of cochlear implants. The 2006 regulations clearly state that districts are not responsible for providing this service. In Petit v. U.S. Dept. of Education, several parents challenged the regulations; the court, however, held that the regulations excluding mapping services are valid. A cochlear implant is a type of hearing aide for a person with severe hearing loss. It has both a surgically implanted internal component and an external component. Mapping is a service provided by a specially trained audiologist to optimize the stimulation that the electrodes on the internal component provide to the auditory nerve. The students in the case previously received mapping services at their districts’ expense, but the districts stopped funding the services after the 2006 regulations took effect.
Both the IDEA and its regulations exclude cochlear implants from the definition of assistive technology devices, so mapping is not considered an assistive technology service (such services are limited to the selection, acquisition, and use of assistive technology devices). The IDEA also excludes cochlear implants and their replacement from the definition of related services. The regulations go further and exclude mapping and maintenance of cochlear implants, while continuing to require districts to check the external components of hearing aides (including cochlear implants) to make sure they are functioning properly. The regulations, in a section dealing specifically with hearing aides, also state that the district is not responsible for the post-surgical maintenance, programming, or replacement of a surgically implanted medical device.
Parents argued that the regulations excluding mapping from the definition of related services are invalid because they conflict with the IDEA’s requirement that districts provide audiology services. The court disagreed, finding that audiology services do not necessarily include mapping given that the Act deals with educational services. The court went on to find that the regulations are a reasonable interpretation of the statute and therefore entitled to deference. The court also found that the 2006 regulations do not impermissibly reduce the protections provided to children with disabilities below those previously in place.
Parents may ask the Supreme Court to review the decision, but for now, the regulations remain in effect and districts should continue following them. Districts must conduct routine checks of the external components of hearing aides, but districts do not need to provide or pay for mapping cochlear implants.