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Raising the Bar for Special Education Programs

The Supreme Court recently made a decision that insists public schools provide appropriate services for learning disabled students. Under the Supreme Court holding, it will be much harder for schools to refuse to provide programs for students in need. Now, schools cannot get by with the minimal special needs for children. Instead, programs need to be designed so that students can make progress. The school then has to be ready to explain their decisions about special education when the program is challenged.

Endrew F. and his fight in Federal Court

The parents of Endrew F. took him out of public school. The parents believed that the individualized education plan for Endrew, who has autism, did not meet his needs. Then the parents sued the school district under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. The parents felt that the individualized program set out by the public school had failed him. The parents wanted reimbursement for having to send their son to a private school. In the lower courts denied the family’s claim and then the 10th U.S. Circuit affirmed their decision. However, the Supreme Court disagreed.

The Supreme Court Holding

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court disagreed with the lower courts. Instead. the Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts, held that every child should have a chance for challenge.  According to the Supreme Court, schools must offer education plans “reasonably calculated to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” “This standard is markedly more demanding than the ‘merely more than de minimis’ test applied by the 10th Circuit.” “It cannot be the case that the act typically aims for grade-level advancement for children with disabilities who can be educated in the regular classroom, but is satisfied with barely more than de minimis progress for those who cannot.”

Many claim this ruling acts as one of the most significant special education cases in decades.

Reactions to the Supreme Court Holding

For special education advocacy groups, the Supreme Court gave them a major victory. Special education advocacy groups endorsed this holding. Additionally, the Obama Administration and over 100 former and current members of Congress endorsed this higher standard.

But some school officials worry about the expense tied to this new higher standard. Additionally,  some school superintendents believe that the lower courts will have to try to figure out what “above appropriate” for an individualized education program means.

Impact of the Ruling

Public schools have to go the extra mile so that students with disabilities receive the legal accommodation. This holding will transform the lives of students and families.  It will also prompt educators and superintendents to try to reach the goals that the IDEA intends to reach.  Some think that this new holding will lead to additional costs for school districts. They worry that public schools would have to foot huge bills for private school tuition.

Additionally, under the Trump administration, the President has said that he plans to keep federal education funding flat, which also might be problematic for schools. In the end, supporters of the IDEA believe that this holding was a win for them, and that students with special needs will be able to receive the attention and support that they need from public schools.

R.F. Wittmeyer

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