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5 stories about this week's Supreme Court ruling on special education

Mar 24, 2017

Earlier this week, in an 8-0 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of bolstering the rights of millions of students with learning disabilities.

The decisions requires public schools to offer special education programs that meet higher standards.

Taking a look at the days following, here are five stories about the Supreme Court's ruling you should read to get caught up.

1. The Supreme Court rules in favor of a special education student | NPR

School districts must give special education students the chance to make meaningful, "appropriately ambitious progress," according to NPR's Anya Kamenetz and Cory Turner. The Court ruled in favor of a Colorado special education student, known only as Endrew F., in the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District.

The case centered on a child with autism and attention deficit disorder whose parents removed him from public school in fifth grade. He went on to make better progress in a private school. His parents argued that the individualized education plan provided by the public school was inadequate, and they sued to compel the school district to pay his private school tuition. The Supreme Court today sided with the family, overturning a lower court ruling in the school district's favor.

2. How a new Supreme Court ruling could affect special education | The Atlantic

Critics of the decision argue that the vast majority of schools already provide a good education to special education students. But advocates for students with disabilities say the decision could help millions of kids.

For the 2013-14 school year, 6.5 million studentsor 13 percent of the public-school population—received an Individual Education Plan (IEP). The court’s decision increases the education expectations for children with disabilities and requires schools to consider each child’s individual strengths and weaknesses when writing an IEP; schools can no longer provide a “one- size- fits- all” IEP.

3. Is the bar too low for special education? | The Atlantic

Endrew F.'s parents removed him from public school, where he struggled behaviorally, and placed him in a private school specializing in autistic children. The new school controlled his behavior with a standard, but intensive therapy not offered at the public school.

Now age 17, Drew has made “significant” progress academically and socially at his new school. In 2012, Drew’s parents filed a complaint with the Colorado Department of Education to recover the cost of tuition at this school, which is now about $70,000 per year. The lower courts ruled on behalf of the school district on the grounds that the intent of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is to ensure handicapped kids have access to public education—not to guarantee any particular level of education once inside. 

4. Advocates hail the Supreme Court ruling on special education rights | Education Week

Although the high court's decision is seen as strengthening the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, it does not address the central question of whether the student at the center of the case was given what he needed to make appropriate progress, according to Education Week's Christina Samuels. But that hasn't stopped special education advocates, like Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, from praising the decision:

Every child deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential and receive a high-quality public education. With this ruling, the court has rightly reaffirmed Congress' intent in the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act to hold schools accountable for providing students with disabilities meaningful educational benefit from the instruction and services they receive.

5. Neil Gorsuch faces tough questions after Supreme Court ruling | CBS News

The Wednesday ruling put Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch in the hot seat at his conformation hearing. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said the high court had just thrown out a standard Gorsuch himself had used previously to lower the bar for educational achievement.

At Gorsuch’s hearing, Durbin said the nominee had gone beyond the standards of his own appeals court by adding the word “merely” in his 2008 opinion approving the “de minimis” - or minimum - standard for special needs education. Durbin suggested that Gorsuch had lowered the bar even more. Gorsuch, handed a copy of the ruling during a break on the third day of his hearings, noted that his panel reached its decision unanimously based on a 10-year-old precedent. Durbin also said Gorsuch had ruled against disabled students in eight out of 10 cases dealing with the IDEA.