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Special needs shift: Disabilities decision resonates

March 26. 2017 4:17PM

In praising the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, Sen. Maggie Hassan called it “the most important Supreme Court decision for people with disabilities in a decade.”

She was understating the case’s importance.

Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA,) parents may pull a child from public school and be reimbursed for putting the child in a private school, if the public school fails to provide the student with meaningful progress.

Under a 1982 precedent, this progress must be “more than de minimis,” meaning any progress at all. In reversing that precedent in a unanimous decision, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that moving to a private school greatly boosted the student’s academic performance, exactly as the law envisioned.

Most importantly, the case shifted the balance of power away from school districts, which only had to show minimal progress for disabled students. Now, parents dissatisfied with their children’s plan will be better able to explore options outside of the public school system.

The Supreme Court’s decision has no legal bearing on American schools outside of the special needs system. But the principle at its heart, that parents should be able to challenge a school district when it comes to their child’s educational needs, certainly does.

Our obligation to educate our children rests with those children, not to their schools.


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