Unanimous Supreme Court Expands Scope of Special Education Rights

Unanimous Supreme Court Expands Scope of Special Education Rights

School districts must give students with disabilities the chance to make meaningful, "appropriately ambitious" progress, the Supreme Court said Wednesday in an 8-0 ruling.

The Supreme Court, however, ruled on Wednesday that the schools have a higher burden than the one adopted by the 10th Circuit decision to properly educate students with disabilities.

"It can not be right that the IDEA generally contemplates grade-level advancement for children with disabilities who are fully integrated in the regular classroom, but is satisfied with barely more than de minimis progress for children who are not", Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a unanimous opinion, using the acronym for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees free public education for students with disabilities. Under IDEA, if a school can't meet the "free and appropriate" standards for a student, the family can seek reimbursement of private-school expenses, which is what the family in this case did.

"Today's ruling by the Supreme Court is a win for our most vulnerable students and helps ensures that the promises Congress made to them under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act will be delivered, no matter where they live".

Chief Justice John Roberts said that it is not enough for school districts to get by with minimal instruction for special needs children. "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".

In Gorsuch's third day of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was questioned about his application of the 10th Circuit standard.

"Gorsuch said he had been handed the Endrew F. ruling "as I went to the bathroom a moment ago. If I was wrong, Senator, I was wrong because I was bound by circuit precedent, and I'm sorry".

In that case, a child with autism was clearly not making sufficient progress in public school. The school programs must be "reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances".

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He asked Gorsuch why, in his opinion in Thompson, he wanted to "lower the bar" to the "merely more than de minimis standard".

"Of course this describes a general standard, not a formula", Roberts said".

The case involved a boy known only as Endrew F. who attended public school outside Denver from kindergarten through fourth grades.

Drew's parents were not satisfied with the IEP the Douglas County School District developed for Drew at the beginning of his fifth grade year.

In the hearing room, Gorsuch pointed to the case as an example of those where he doesn't like the result, but followed circuit court precedent. He said it would lead to schools more carefully tracking the progress of special needs students.

They sued the school district in 2012, seeking to recover tuition costs.

In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the school did not violate the law based on the low standard set by longstanding judicial precedent. But he praised the court for saying it would defer to the judgment of educational officials.