It has been 40 years since the United States Supreme Court first heard a case concerning special education in public schools, Hendrick Hudson Central School District School Board v. Rowley. In this case, the court ruled that a student who is deaf was not eligible for a sign language interpreter because the student was doing reasonably well, even though an interpreter could have helped the student learn more and learn more. ‘to improve.
In the decades that followed Rowley, court orders, and some adjustments to federal laws have clarified the rights of students to obtain accommodations for various conditions and disabilities affecting their education. But the law governing these rights, known today as the Persons with Disabilities Education Acthas not been significantly updated since its original adoption in 1975, and has never gone this long without full congressional review.
A step towards equality
In many ways, Rowley owes its existence to the United States’ first landmark decision on equal educational opportunity: Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which outlawed racial segregation in K-12 public schools. Desegregation efforts continue, with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division reporting that it is dealing with “about 150 cases of desegregation.”
During the initial push toward racial inclusion in public schools across the country, there was also a movement to integrate other disadvantaged students into public school classrooms: people with disabilities. The first major federal effort took place in 1975 with the enactment of the Education for All Children with Disabilities Actrenamed the Persons with Disabilities Education Act in 1990.
The IDEA law has always applied to children between 3 and 21 years old who have an intellectual disability, hearing impairment, speech or language impairment, or other specifically identifiable disabilities listed in the law. This is about 15 percent of the country’s school-age population.
These children are entitled to afree appropriate public education” in the “least restrictive environment” possible in which their needs can be met. This means that unless their conditions preclude it, they should be placed in classes with peers of the same age who are not disabled.
Students should also receive, at no cost to their parents, specially designed instruction with detailed programming in their Individualized education programs and related support services. This could include transport services and even sign language interpreterswho were involved in the Rowley case.
The controversy over the meaning of the law began in earnest in 1982 with the first Supreme Court ruling interpreting it.
A costume on sign language
Based on this law and the general principle of equal educational opportunity, in 1979 the parents of 8-year-old Amy Rowley, who was born deaf, sued in federal court against school officials in the Hendrick Hudson Central School District, just north of New York, who had refused their request for a sign language interpreter to accompany Amy during class.
A hearing officer and the lower courts agreed that Amy was entitled to an interpreter. But the school district appealed to the Supreme Court. In their decision, the judges noted that Amy did well in school and could read her teachers’ lips. They said that a “appropriate“education – which was required by law – had only to be”sufficient to confer an educational benefit.” The school only needed to provide “minimum opportunities” instead of all the help she needed to reach her full potential.
The court found that because she had received passing grades, Amy was not entitled to an interpreter – even though she could have reached a higher level with the extra help. Shortly after the decision, Amy’s family moved to another school districtwhere she had the help of interpreters – and Amy continued to obtain a doctorate. and become a university professor.
Recognize additional rights
In the years since its decision in the Rowley case, the Supreme Court has also taken up other cases concerning the rights of students with disabilities. In Honig vs. Doe in 1988, the court said officials must involve parents in decisions about how to discipline students whose misbehavior is manifestations of their disability.
In 1984, the court ruled that students who needed them were entitled to the services they needed, such as catheterization at school, and even, after a judgment in 1999, the personal attendance of a nurse during the school day.
In addition, the court considered the rights of parents of children with special needs. In various decisions from 1986 to 2012, for example, the court ruled that parents can lodge a full complaint – not just on behalf of their children – if they disagreed with the way public schools were helping their children.
And parents who want more for their children than the school district will provide can enroll their children in private schools with adapted services at public expenditureeven though private schools were not state approved.
The court has repeatedly ruled that there are certain limits to parental rights. The court has consistently held that parents can challenge Individualized education programslegal and clinical documents that outline a student’s needs and the services promised to meet those needs.
But in 2006, the court ruled that the parents could not recover expert witness costs if they were successful in court against the school boards. Despite three attempts to include this requirement in the law updates, parents remain responsible for expert witness fees, which can cost hundreds of dollars an hour.
And in 2007, judges ruled that parties challenging individualized education programs for students, usually parents, must prove that the plans do not meet the needs of the children.
A change for the future
In 2017, 35 years after its decision in Rowleythe Supreme Court revised its initial low standard to require just minimal support for students with disabilities.
In the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the judges considered an IEP assigned to an autistic student by a school board in Colorado. They determined that “[t]o respond to its noun obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make appropriate progress in light of the child’s circumstances. Progress – and potential – were the new normals, not just getting by.
Now, 40 years after Rowley, Congress hasn’t fully reviewed the IDEA since 2004. And it’s unclear if or how Congress could amend the IDEA to ensure that students with disabilities continue to receive the educational programs that this vulnerable population of children needs to thrive. school and beyond.