Supreme Court Rules on Students With Disabilities

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In a previous blog post, we described the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, which explored the degree to which school boards are responsible for accommodating students with serious disabilities.

As related in that blog post:

The case in question, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, originates in Summit View Elementary in Littleton, Colorado. In 2010, Endrew F (not his real name) was a student at the school. Endrew, now in his late teens, is autistic. This led to him acting out in many serious ways that included taking his clothes off, striking his head, running away from school and more. His parents, concerned that he wasn’t benefiting from being in a public school, transferred him to a local private school that specializes in educating students with autism. The student’s parents asked the public school board to reimburse them for the tuition expenses, but the school board refused, insisting they had obeyed the law, which only required them to admit Endrew but did not place requirements on the quality of his education.

Well, the top court has issued its ruling. In a unanimous decision, the court found in favor of the parents rather than the school board. The court said that while the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act did not specify means and methods for coping with particular learning exceptionalities, the original intent clearly went beyond wheelchair ramps and the like.

Chief Justice Roberts commented: “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.”

It is difficult to say at this point what this means for school boards in terms of specific policies, but it will almost certainly trigger substantive changes nationwide. For now, it apparently means the family who triggered the case in the first place will receive what they sought from the beginning: a reimbursement for the private education they had to get for their autistic son.

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