Landmark Decision for Special Education

I wrote about Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District for the Atlantic in January. At that time, the case was under review by Supreme Court. The justices were debating whether or not children with special needs were entitled to an education that provided them with de minimus benefits — basically no benefits – or whether they were entitled an education that enabled them to make progress.

Today, SCOTUS ruled in favor of Endew F. and all special ed kids. Yahoo!

And this happened just as Judge Neil Gorsuch was being questioned by the Senate. He was forced to explain to Congress why he ruled against special education students in several cases. He was forced to admit that he was wrong.

Oh, life is very, very good today.

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10 thoughts on “Landmark Decision for Special Education

  1. I agree so very, very much. IDEA has been something I’ve used to get through to my Republican relatives as they’re all on board with the principle of full educational access for kids such as ours, as pointing out Gorsuch’s role in trying to undermine equitable education for all is darned important to bring up (and take down) at this time.

  2. I’d like to better understand the school choice angle with this case. Vouchers for private schools for special ed kids? Here in Virginia, our Republican General Assembly passed legislation to that effect and Gov. Terry McAulliffe vetoed it. For many ADD kids, just moving to a private school with a smaller class sizes (10-15 kids vs 25-30) would mean better progress. Others would benefit from a school that depends less on screen time or allows more recess or a different length of school day or year.

    1. Mrs. Ewer said:

      “For many ADD kids, just moving to a private school with a smaller class sizes (10-15 kids vs 25-30) would mean better progress. Others would benefit from a school that depends less on screen time or allows more recess or a different length of school day or year.”

      Yes. One of the things I got out of Temple Grandin’s memoir “Emergence” was that she had dramatically different experiences at different-sized schools. She did well at her small elementary school, poorly at a large middle school, and very well at a private boarding school with horses and lots of opportunities for hands-on activities that used her visual and spatial gifts. (I’m not talking fake-ola “projects,” but stuff like set design, costume design and (if I recall correctly) woodworking.)

      I think we’ve had a similar experience with our oldest, who is 14 and has had an Asperger’s diagnosis since she was 6. She’s a 9th grader now and has been at the same private school since kindergarten. There are under 30 kids in her entire grade and there’s a PK-6 elementary and a 7-12 junior/senior high school (with each building having a couple hundred kids). All the adults in the building know who she is. One thing that’s been startling for me (having had a more conventional public school background in a public school about twice the size) is what a good experience she had during the middle school years. Those are typically HORRIBLE years, but she just sailed right through it, cushioned by a small, consistent peer group. She has really good relationships with dozens of classmates–given my own school experiences of feeling Lost in Junior HIgh, that boggles my mind. Whenever I ask her, she says she’s friendly with everybody, and I have to believe her, because half a dozen of her female classmates show up at the monthly music club she and I run. I would have to say that she’s socially way, way, way out in front of where I was at the same age. It’s a really happy thought that if all goes well, she’s going to be able to be at the same school for the next three years. College is going to be a big leap for her, given what a small pool she’s been swimming in, but so far so good.

      I have a friend who is homeschooling a much more disabled child, and I feel like a small private school could be extremely beneficial for him. There is a substantial number of people homeschooling disabled children who are afraid (and with some reason) that their kids will be mistreated or underserved in the public system.

      1. Sorry! I had an early morning math misfire. My public high school alone was nearly the size of my kids’ entire private PK-12 school, while my home town K-12 system (one elementary school, one middle school, one high school) was nearly four times the size of my kids’ entire current school.

        I got lost in the shuffle a lot as a kid and I mostly hated school (especially in the elementary grades).

        I didn’t notice this so much when my kids were in elementary school, but now that our oldest is in high school, I think there is a statistically improbable number of “special” kids in the junior/senior high building.

        While I suspect our middle child could have coped pretty well with a good suburban public school, our youngest daughter (age 4) just got a diagnosis of high-functioning autism. I’m looking forward to an interesting next few years, but I have a lot of confidence that our kids’ private school will be able to nudge her toward better social skills and more flexibility.

        But we’re doing to be paying $5500 a year this fall for three-day pre-k for the youngest and $9200 for 10th grade for the oldest. Not everybody can do that. Heck, we ourselves just applied for a scholarship for the fall.

        But I guess we ought to be saving for college instead…Because that’s SO much more useful.

      2. “Yes. One of the things I got out of Temple Grandin’s memoir “Emergence” was that she had dramatically different experiences at different-sized schools. She did well at her small elementary school, poorly at a large middle school, and very well at a private boarding school with horses and lots of opportunities for hands-on activities that used her visual and spatial gifts. ”

        I’m not giving my kids’ medium-sized public school (S’s graduating class is about 140) any medals, but … it has been hugely helpful to E to keep him in this same school district with mostly the same kids, with a peer group he fits into (band kids/math kids). It also helps that he has an older sister who decided to adopt many 9th graders this year.

        I think it also helped his middle school years that he is spectrummy. He doesn’t care about popularity/long-term social success. He wants kids to eat lunch with other kids who laugh at his jokes and like some of the same things he does.

        PS: S has been having success in the college application process, but the biggest guns all announce decisions next week, so we expect to see her success rate plunge. I’m thinking we’ve had 3 of the 4 “yes”es that she will get.

      3. Wendy said:

        “I’m not giving my kids’ medium-sized public school (S’s graduating class is about 140) any medals, but … it has been hugely helpful to E to keep him in this same school district with mostly the same kids, with a peer group he fits into (band kids/math kids). It also helps that he has an older sister who decided to adopt many 9th graders this year.”

        AWWWW.

  3. I have a tab open on my screen where I’m starting to pull together articles on school choice and vouchers. My immediate impressions? I already have school choice. Middle class parents with special needs kids who know the rules can choose get their into a school of their choice. Now, sometimes you need a great lawyer, but it can happen. Usually, the biggest problems is that there aren’t enough great schools for special needs kids, so the choice is often limited. But it can be done.

    I don’t see vouchers as improving the situation. Usually, the voucher amounts are so small that it won’t cover the tuition of those places. It’s not enough to jump start the creation of great schools. Great schools for highly disabled kids cost about 100K per year per kid. It’s easier for the great schools to get that money from the school districts with lawsuits or from deep pocketed donors.

    Schools that serve less disabled kids, like the ADD kids with behavior problems, are also expensive. Good public schools usually can handle ADD kids without behavior problems.

  4. Laura — I have a question: Are there examples of voucher programs that do not cover the full tuition at the school where they are being/might be used? Kind of like the proposed credits for health insurance in the Trump healthcare plan?

  5. Oops, the above is me, BJ.

    I’ve read the court opinion in Endrew F. It’s readable, and interesting even though I’m not a lawyer.

    In the opinion the court rejects the de minimus standard (which would have eviscerated IDEA) which Gorsuch and others had interpreted as being a reasonable interpretation of the Supreme court decision in Rowley. In Rowley, the court held that for a child who is fully integrated in the regular classroom the school would be providing reasonable IEPs under IDEA if the child was making regular grade level progress, but didn’t, apparently, answer the question of a child not fully integrated in the regular classroom.

    In Endrew F, they hold that for a child who is not fully integrated in a regular classroom, the school must “offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances”. The opinion also contains language that suggests that the school district should be prepared, when there is disagreement, to argue that their IEP satisfies that goal. I can’t tell whether that language will be interpreted as putting the burden on the school district to show that their plan satisfies the reasonable standard, or whether the court is instructed to defer to the school district on making that determination. I also wonder how the “fully integrated in the regular classroom”, the preferred option under IDEA, will be interpreted, since the standard under these cases seems more defined for the “fully integrated” child (to me)

  6. Good summary Laura, in your Atlantic article.

    I also read the case Gorsuch decided on, Thompson School District v Luke P. The court clearly ruled against the de minimus standard, but I think the resolution of what the standard now is is going to be pretty muddy. I’m guessing that the decision in the Gorsuch case wouldn’t have been any different under this new standard. They would just have summed up the facts as being “reasonable progress given the circumstances”.

    I think I agree with the quotes in your article from Pudelski, that the standard won’t change that much. But, at least the decision prevents a slide to the bottom.

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