The NPRreport notes that Judge Neil Gorsuch, now in confirmation hearings to fill the vacant ninth seat on the court, has ruled in eight out of ten cases involving students with disabilities toward limiting the responsibilities of public school districts.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously raised the bar for the educational benefits owed to millions of children with disabilities in one of the most significant special-education cases to reach the high court in decades.
Gorsuch's interpretation was pursuant to which a school district satisfies federal law, and does not need to reimburse the cost of private education, so long as it provides educational benefits to disabled students that are "more than de minimis". The District argued that it met this standard by creating a basic floor of opportunity for the disabled child, providing individualized services sufficient to provide him with some level of educational benefit.
The federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, guarantees a "free appropriate public education" to all students with disabilities.
Instead, the court said special education must be "reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances".
Gorsuch wrote the opinion for a unanimous 2008 decision in which he rejected the claim that the Colorado school district was not doing enough to educate the autistic student.
"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, '" he added, quoting from key 1982 Supreme Court precedent on special education, Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, that also dealt with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. John Cornyn, he said "I was wrong, Senator, because I was bound by circuit precedent, and I'm sorry".
In Endrew's case his parents pulled him out of a public school in the county located near Denver, frustrated with his lack of progress.
"Please", Durbin said, no one was suggesting that, but a wrong reading of the law. They had argued that educational programs for disabled students should meet goals "substantially equal" to those for children without disabilities.
Gorsuch's opinions in eight out of 10 cases involving students of disabilities all tended toward limiting the responsibilities of school districts - for example, if they leave school of their own accord out of frustration. The achievement levels of students in special education are among the lowest in Alabama, on par with children who are just beginning to learn the English language. That year was especially rocky for Drew, as the school reported he climbed over furniture and other students, hit things, screamed, ran away from school, and twice removed his clothing and went to the bathroom on the floor of the classroom.
In a unanimous decision, the court ruled that the school did not violate the law based on the low standard set by longstanding judicial precedent. Gorsuch has been involved in over ten cases involving students with disabilities.
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