Thursday, January 12, 2017

US Supreme Court ready to hear the land mark case on supporting Education for Disabled Students

Pls refer to my earlier post on  20 October 2016 titled 'US Supreme Court to hear ground breaking case involving what is "appropriate education" for students with Autism in public schools' . The Justices are hearing the arguments in the case wherein a school district refused to pay for private school for a student with autism whether federal law (IDEA) requires public schools to provide anything more than minimal instruction to such children.

A law dating from 1975, now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, subsidizes special education but also requires school districts to provide a “free appropriate public education” to disabled students. Congress didn’t specify what it meant by appropriate, and when parents have challenged public school programs as inadequate—often because they want the district to pay for a private institution instead—appellate courts have disagreed over the quality of education the law mandates.

The Supreme Court agreed to resolve the issue in a case from Douglas County, Colo., where the school district rejected a parental request to pay $40,000 tuition to send an autistic child to a private school offering specialized programs.

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, told the court as long as the public school program was better than nothing, courts had little role beyond reviewing whether local officials followed procedures that the law, known as the IDEA Act, lays out for a disabled student’s educational plan.

“That’s what Congress had in mind, the idea that you’ve got to go through the checklist,” Mr. Katyal said.

“That’s wrong,” said Justice Elena Kagan. “This is not just a procedural guarantee. Yes, the IDEA has lots of procedures in it, but they’re all geared towards a particular substantive result.”

The justices likewise felt Jeffrey Fisher, a Stanford law professor representing the child, identified as Endrew F. in court papers, pushed too far in contending the law mandated that disabled students receive “equal educational opportunity” with other students.

Such a high standard could invite numerous claims forcing courts to evaluate whether a plan for a disabled child was legally equal to the opportunities provided other students, said Justice Stephen Breyer. “I foresee taking the money that ought to go to the children and spending it on lawsuits and lawyers and all kinds of things that are extraneous. That is what’s actually bothering me,” he said.

Much of the argument concerned the meaning of a 1982 Supreme Court precedent upholding a school district’s refusal to provide a sign-language interpreter for a deaf student because she was progressing well using a hearing aid. In that case, Board of Education v. Rowley, the court cited a congressional purpose “to confer some educational benefit upon the handicapped child.”

Responding to Mr. Katyal, Chief Justice John Roberts summarized the disagreement this way:

“You’re reading it as saying ‘SOME benefit,’ and the other side is reading it as saying ‘some BENEFIT,’” the chief justice said, prompting laughter across the courtroom.

The Obama administration has proposed a compromise position, and by the argument’s end it appeared likely to prevail.

The law should be read to require “significant progress towards grade-level standards, not as close as possible to grade-level standards,” Justice Department lawyer Irv Gornstein told the court. “And we think that this is just what most school boards are already doing.”

Justice Samuel Alito asked whether school officials could consider costs in determining an appropriate program.

Probably not, said Mr. Gornstein, who noted that the federal government provides about 15% of special-education costs.

“I think Congress took costs off the table in the usual case,” Mr. Gornstein said, except in extreme cases where extraordinary costs would yield little benefit to the student.

A decision in the case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, is expected before July.


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