Supreme Court Expands Education Rights of Special Needs Students
San Francisco, CA (Law Firm Newswire) September 21, 2017 – The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that school districts must strive to offer special education programs that go beyond minimal teaching. Disability advocacy groups believe the decision could significantly expand the rights of the nation’s 6.4 million special needs students.
Chief Justice John Roberts said public schools must meet higher standards by developing programs that allow students to make progress and “have the chance to meet challenging objectives” in light of their disabilities. However, Roberts did not specify the nature of the progress, saying it varies according to the “unique circumstances” of each special needs child. He added that there should also be deference to the judgment and expertise of school officials.
“The Supreme Court decision provides school districts the opportunity to re-examine their special educational programs and ensure they are consistent with the newly clarified national standard,” commented special needs attorney Michael Gilfix. “Like other students, children with disabilities deserve to get the support necessary to help them advance in school and achieve meaningful educational goals.”
The ruling helped define the scope of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under the federal law, public schools are required to provide special needs students with a “free and appropriate public education.” Lower courts have been divided on the standard of education the law guarantees. With its decision, the high court rejected a lower standard set by the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
The case concerned Endrew, an autistic teen in Colorado. His parents enrolled him in private school, saying their public school did not do enough to help their son make academic progress. The school district denied the parents’ claim for tuition reimbursement, maintaining it had fulfilled the minimum education standards required under federal law. Although the lower courts ruled against the parents, the Supreme Court unanimously sided with them.
Special education advocacy groups largely welcomed the high court ruling. They said it would help push schools to set more ambitious goals tailored to each student’s specific needs. However, critics argued the bar was not raised high enough to ensure that educational programs for disabled students were “substantially equal” to those of children without disabilities.
In addition, some school officials said that most districts are already providing special needs students with a sound education. They also warned that implementing higher standards could raise costs for certain school districts that are already struggling financially.