Supreme Court Expands Rights of Kids in Special Ed

It was a good week for Special Education advocates. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that schools must provide more than a minimum program to students with disabilities.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion, excerpts of which appear below:

When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all…For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to sitting idly … awaiting the time when they were old enough to drop out.

The IDEA demands more. It requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.

The case resulting in this decision involved an autistic student whose parents were concerned that their child’s education had plateaued as his IEP repeated the same goals and objectives for four years straight. The parents removed their son from the public school and placed him in a private school for autistic children, where he showed immediate improvement.

Seeking reimbursement from the public school the family was rebuffed on all attempts, including most recently by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that an IEP need only provide “educational benefit that is merely more than de minimis.”

This week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upended that precedent, establishing a new standard—one that “must aim to enable a child to make progress…to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade.”

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