Federal Government Moves to Protect Students with Disabilities

In two recent situations, agencies of the U.S. government are defining the protections offered to students with disabilities. In one instance, the Supreme Court has accepted a case that will better define what are minimum expectations in special education. In another, the Department of Education has asked a Texas agency to respond to allegations that they limited the number of students who could receive special education services.

Picture of a lightbulb glowing in the sky.
The IDEA Act is a law protecting students with disabilities. Once a federal law is approved, federal government agencies continue to define it in courts of law. photo credit: Domenico Mascagna (@memmettovich) COSA ASPETTIAMO via photopin (license)

Education Law in the Supreme Court

Disability Scoop reports that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, which will address “the IDEA’s mandate that public schools provide children with disabilities a free appropriate public education, or FAPE.”

According to its website, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, is “a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.”

The Supreme Court case revolves around parents who withdrew their child with autism from public school and put their child in private school, the sought reimbursement from the public schools. Lower courts ruled in the school district’s favor for not having to pay. The parents have escalated the case, asking for a definition of what level education is acceptable for children with disabilities.

“This court should hold that states must provide children with disabilities educational benefits that are meaningful in light of the child’s potential and the IDEA’s stated purposes. Merely aiming for non-trivial progress is not sufficient,” the U.S. solicitor general indicated, according to the report.

Picture of a variety of students playing in a classroom.
Under the IDEA Act, all students have the right to a “free appropriate public education, or FAPE.” photo credit: U.S. Army Garrison Japan 4th-graders practice mindfulness in classroom via photopin (license)

Education law in a State

Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle published an investigative report by Brian M. Rosenthal alleging that the Texas Education Agency limited special education enrollment in schools, a move that caused districts and schools to further limit special education identification of students and kept “tens of thousands of children out of special education.”

In a follow-up article to his investigative report, the Chronicle’s reporter Rosenthal said they sent a copy of their report to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

The department responded swiftly with a request for more information from the Texas Education Agency within 30 days.

According to the letter shared in the report, the federal agency “ordered Texas state officials to eliminate an 8.5 percent benchmark on special education enrollment enforced in the state’s 1,200 school districts unless they can show that it had not kept children with disabilities from receiving appropriate educational services.”

The agency letter, like the Supreme Court, questions whether the IDEA Act is being observed in letter and in spirit.

Federal actions will continue to define how states and their schools should observe federal disability laws, in this case, the IDEA Act.



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