Supreme Court to Hear Case on Students With Disabilities

Posted By Marisa Sanfilippo on November 7, 2016 at 5:35 pm
Supreme Court to Hear Case on Students With Disabilities

Much media coverage regarding academic opportunity during this election cycle has focused on the contrasting views on higher education between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. However, the government faces other major education issues– including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – known as IDEA.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Endrew F. v Douglas County School District case, which will address the act’s requirements and limitations for the first time since 2009. The first iteration of IDEA was established in 1975. Its purpose: to ensure children with disabilities had an opportunity to receive an appropriate – and free – public education.

How the IDEA has evolved

Over the years, the law has been revised many times. The most recent revisions were passed by Congress in 2004. However, the amended regulations for school-aged children were not published until 2006 and those for babies and toddlers in 2011.

Prior to the passage of these laws, many students with disabilities – whether physical, mental, or emotional — would be prohibited from pursuing a public education. There are thirteen specific disabilities covered under IDEA:

  • Autism
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Deafness
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Hearing impairment
  • Intellectual disability
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Other health impairment (including ADHD)
  • Specific learning disability (including dyslexia, dysgraphia, and others)
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual impairment

Early education and students with disabilities

IDEA covers both school-aged children with disabilities as well as those intervention guidelines for babies and toddlers. This is due to the overwhelming amount of evidence that indicates the vital necessity of high quality educational opportunities for all children during these early years.

It is especially important for students with disabilities. According to Dr. Dena AuCoin, academic chair for the Educational Studies Department at Kaplan University, “The developing knowledge in infant brain development and growth assessment indicates that quality environments with appropriate stimulation can support the development of children for the long-term, as well as provide positive economic returns. The quality of early experiences for infants can be critical in setting the stage for future success.”

She further points out that, “Most early childhood programs involve engagement in opportunities believed to support growth and development in the domains of language, cognition, social-emotional, and motor skills. Early childhood education is rounded in the following skills: early literacy, social competencies, attention, independence, relationships. These skills essentially make up the foundation for developing well-rounded citizens.”

The continued support of all children as they become integrated in the public school environment is essential for their long-term success. Students with disabilities face far greater challenges in their academic careers, including winning scholarships to college. The vast majority of these students have the potential to perform on the same level as their peers if they are given the accommodations necessary to facilitate their specific learning styles and needs.

Potential of the court’s decision

The topic before the court in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District is the determination of what qualifies as an acceptable educational benefit in order to be in compliance with the “free, appropriate public education” (or FAPE) dictated by the IDEA.

The lower courts sided with the school district in saying the student had received “some educational benefit” as specified by his Individualized Education Plan, thus complying with the FAPE mandate. The issue both sides are hoping the Supreme Court will settle is whether further expectations that have been imposed in other jurisdictions to ensure students receive “meaningful educational benefits” should be quantified and enforced nationally.

The findings of the court have the potential to significantly impact the educational opportunities for students with disabilities no matter how the case is decided. According to Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Professor David Tarrien, “If the court holds that individual students’ benefit must be meaningful, … more attention to measuring progress and more detailed individualized education plans would be expected to follow.”

A ruling in favor of the family could also lead to negative effects for students. Tarrien continues, “Increased administration could make the process of obtaining FAPE slower; also, students may be under-diagnosed by schools to avoid providing special services.” If the Court rules in favor of the school district, it is possible that educational services and opportunities will decrease, or remain substandard, for students in some areas.

It is important for the general population to remember that a student’s access to high quality education does not begin with a foray into collegiate life. While people are often concerned with university rankings and the growing concern over student loans, the preparation for entering advanced educational institutions begins much earlier.

Marisa Sanfilippo
Marisa is an award-winning marketing professional who loves to write. During the day, she wears her marketing hat in her marketing director role and at night she works as a freelance writer, ghost writing for clients and contributing to publications such as Huffington Post and Social Media Today.

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