Thursday, October 20, 2016

What constitutes "appropriate education" for students with Autism in public schools- US Supreme Court to consider

Dear Colleagues,

The origins of this potentially lank mark case stretch back to 2010 when the parents of a child with autism in Douglas County of USA had to withdraw their child from "Summit View Elementary" -  a public school  after the child (now 17) began to exhibit severe behavioral issues, including banging his head, dropping to the floor, disrobing and running away from school. The parents having been convinced the school wasn’t doing enough to help their son with autism progress academically, pulled the child out of Summit View and enrolled him in Firefly Autism, a Denver school that specializes in working with autistic children.

The parents have argued in the petition they submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court late last year that the intent of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) was to provide a meaningful education to disabled students, not simply a “just-above-trivial” benefit. They noted that federal judges from several circuits across the country have issued conflicting rulings over the years on what is the "appropriate standard" to be used to assess the proper level of educational benefit a disabled student should get. The petition of the parents argues that this case presents an ideal vehicle for this Court to resolve the circuit split and provide lower courts with guidance in applying the IDEA.

It is pertinent to note that the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t spoken on the issue since the 1982 Board of Education Versus Rowley ruling, when it affirmed that IDEA guaranteed disabled students access to the public school classroom but didn’t address the quality of that education.

Even in India, we have been facing this issue of what is 'appropriate education' for children with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. While the government schools in India are woefully ill-equipped in absence of trained educators, lack of teaching learning material in the schools given the large number of students. The situation is equally grim in the private schools as well who charge a considerable amount in the name of tuition fee and other counts, however, have made the education of disabled children an affair to be managed by Shadow Teachers (paid by parents). In the name of inclusion, children do remain in the school but there is hardly an effort to include them in the classroom or the learning outcomes. Children with disabilities are also not included in play or extra-curricular activities. This is surely not inclusion. This is a clear violation of the spirit of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act 1995 and in particular Section 30 of the Act.

Entire world will be watching this case with great curiosity as to what Supreme Court of USA decides. But one thing is sure, Supreme Court had made up its mind to speak its mind on the issue and likely to grant Certiorari to the parents. This case is truly about equal opportunity for the special needs children that the law requires. And this is likely to help realize inclusive education as enshrined in the IDEA.

Brief about IDEA 

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a four-part (A-D) piece of American legislation that ensures students with a disability are provided with Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs. IDEA was previously known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) from 1975 to 1990. In 1990, the United States Congress reauthorized EHA and changed the title to IDEA (Public Law No. 94-142). Overall, the goal of IDEA is to provide children with disabilities the same opportunity for education as those students who do not have a disability.

IDEA is composed of four parts, the main two being part A and part B.[1] Part A covers the general provisions of the law, Part B covers assistance for education of all children with disabilities, Part C covers infants and toddlers with disabilities which includes children from birth to age three, and Part D is the national support programs administered at the federal level. Each part of the law has remained largely the same since the original enactment in 1975.

In practice, IDEA is composed of six main elements that illuminate its main points. These six elements are: Individualized Education Program (IEP), Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), Appropriate Evaluation, Parent and Teacher Participation, and Procedural Safeguards. To go along with those six main elements there are also a few other important components that tie into IDEA: Confidentiality of Information, Transition Services, and Discipline. Throughout the years of IDEA being reauthorized these components have become key concepts when learning about IDEA.

Here is the coverage in Denver on the issue

U.S. Supreme Court will hear Douglas County student with disabilities case
Origins of potentially landmark case stretch back to 2010

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Thursday that it will hear a potentially groundbreaking case brought by a Douglas County couple who claim that their autistic son was not provided an adequate education in the public school system as required by federal law.

The high court’s ruling on the case, which likely wouldn’t come down until next year, could have substantial implications for students with disabilities across the country in terms of the standard school districts will be required to meet when providing instruction and services. At issue is whether schools must provide an education equal to other students.

The family, whose last name is not used in court documents, told The Denver Post on Thursday that they were “shell-shocked and giddy” about the decision by the Supreme Court to grant certiorari to their case, which has dragged on for half a dozen years.

“It’s about equal opportunity for special-needs kids that the law requires,” said Joe F., father of Endrew F., whose name anchors the Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District case file. “If we can change any families’ lives, that’s our goal.”

The district released a statement on the high court’s decision late Thursday.

“It would be inappropriate to discuss the specifics of the case while it is still being litigated, but the Court’s decision today is not a decision on the merits, and we look forward to addressing the issues before the Court,” district spokeswoman Paula Hans said.

The roots of the case go back to 2010, when the Highlands Ranch couple pulled Endrew, now 17, out of Summit View Elementary after he began to exhibit severe behavioral issues, including banging his head, dropping to the floor, disrobing and running away from school. Convinced the school wasn’t doing enough to help their son progress academically, the couple pulled him out of Summit View and enrolled him in Firefly Autism, a Denver school that specializes in working with autistic children.
“If he was able to show up to school and say ‘good morning,’ that was good enough for them,” Joe F. said of the Douglas County School District. “They weren’t moving his education forward.”

The family has asked that their last name not be used.

The parents, who said their son has made progress in his learning since attending Firefly, asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition they paid for Endrew’s private schooling. They claimed that the Douglas County School District did not do enough to provide their son with a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

But an administrative law judge, a federal judge and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backed the district, claiming in separate rulings that the federal statute only requires that schools provide students with “some educational benefit,” a standard they determined Douglas County had met with Endrew.

The family argued in the petition they submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court late last year that the intent of the IDEA was to provide a meaningful education to disabled students, not simply a “just-above-trivial” benefit. They noted that federal judges from several circuits across the country have issued conflicting rulings over the years on what is the appropriate standard to be used to assess the proper level of educational benefit a disabled student should get.

“This case presents an ideal vehicle for this Court to resolve the circuit split and provide lower courts with guidance in applying the IDEA,” their petition argued.

The U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t spoken on the issue since the 1982 Board of Education v. Rowley ruling, when it affirmed that IDEA guaranteed disabled students access to the public school classroom but didn’t address the quality of that education.

The family received a boost last month when the Office of the Solicitor General filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to take up the case. It said that the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had set the bar — a standard of “merely … more than de minimis” educational benefit — too low.

“No parent or educator in America would say that a child has received an ‘appropriate’ or a ‘specially suitable’ or ‘proper’ education ‘in the circumstances’ when all the child has received are benefits that are barely more than trivial,” the solicitor general’s office wrote.

But Kathleen Sullivan, chief counsel for the Colorado Association of School Boards, said it would be better for Congress to clarify its statutes than for the court to impose an order. A uniform standard handed down by the Supreme Court would prove “disruptive” to what is today an individually tailored analysis and decision between educators, parents and students, she said.

“The disruption is in shoving aside more than 30 years of case law that we have in helping us understand what the IDEA means for students,” Sullivan said. “I think we would see a wave of litigation to define and apply that new standard.”

The district, in a brief it filed earlier this month urging the Supreme Court not to take up the case, argued that in passing the IDEA, Congress guaranteed access to public education for students with disabilities but did not specify what the level of that education should be.

“Thus, for over 30 years, this Court has held that if a State provides a program ‘reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits,’ then it ‘has complied with the obligations imposed by Congress and the courts can require no more,’ ” the brief argued.

But Jack Robinson, an attorney for Endrew F.’s family, said one of the IDEA’s stated goals is readying a student with disabilities for the workforce or independent living, something that can’t be achieved with a minimal education offering.

“There has to be a more heightened and robust standard than a little more than nothing,” Robinson said. “This case has the potential of recognizing that children with disabilities have a right to a substantive education.”

Source : Denverpost 

Note: This post is also reproduced on blog "Disability Rights Through Courts

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