Case Management, Life Care Plan

Children with Disabilities Deserve Equal Opportunity in Education

 January 13, 2017

By  Deborah L Weiner Katz, OTR/L, CCM, CLCP

Before you read any further, let the following statement sink in. Our fifty states currently do not agree on the level of education a child with disabilities should receive.

Words like “some” and “meaningful” are the only discerning factors between the education that disabled children and their families should expect to receive. So far, courts have decided that “some” educational benefit is barely more than the bare minimum. Meanwhile “meaningful” simply means equal to what other children receive.

If you find yourself aghast at this revelation, it should please you to know that this matter has just become the most significant special-education case to come before the U.S. Supreme Court in thirty years. Arguments are now being heard over the level of education that public schools are required to provide to millions of disabled children. As advocates for children with disabilities, we feel very strongly that these children deserve the same opportunities as others. We support their dreams of living an independent life and being able to fully participate in society.

The case that has just been heard is Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. Colorado’s Douglas County School District is the defendant in the case. They are opposed to the “meaningful” benefit standard because they feel the term is vague, not grounded in law and impractical. Endrew F., also known as Drew, is an autistic boy who has also been diagnosed with ADHD. His family has brought the case before our nation’s highest court because they feel that Douglas County School District failed to find a solution to Drew’s lack of academic and social progress during a two year period. What is the basis for this accusation of failure?

Autism and ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, make it difficult for a child to communicate and socialize. Students with disabilities are assigned an IEP, or Individualized Education Program. An IEP sets up goals and accommodations for the student based on his or her respective needs. It is legally binding and should make it easier to track progress. Drew’s parents found that after two years of progressively worse behavioral problems, the district seemed to have no plan at all, having not made any significant changes to his IEP. Their response was to pull him out of public school and place him in special school for children with autism.

The good news is that, since 2010 when Drew moved to private school, he has been achieving IEP goals left and right, while learning vocational skills and preparing for life after high school. The bad news is that in order for Drew’s parents to get reimbursed for the cost of said education, an annual tuition of almost $70,000, they must prove that their son was denied the “free appropriate public education” promised to him by federal special-education law.

So far, three different judges have ruled that while they acknowledge Drew’s success in private school, the minimal progress shown while he was in public school is still sufficient. By bringing their son’s case before the Supreme Court, they won the attention of the Obama administration who, along with 100 members of Congress, not only support Drew and his parents but have called the standard of education enforced by the previous judges to be “vanishingly low”.

On one hand, the district’s lawyers have cited a 34 year old federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, as setting that standard. However, the Obama administration, 100 Congressmen and Drew’s parents feel that the current standard is simply not what Congress intended back in 1982.

So, what do children with disabilities stand to gain from the outcome of this case? After all, that is what has won the attention of advocates nationwide. This is about more than reimbursement for Drew’s education. At the federal level, this case has the potential to set a uniform standard, nation-wide, guaranteeing disabled children equal opportunities to achieve academic success, attain self-sufficiency and contribute to society.

Generally, school age children will receive the assistance they require because of federal laws and initiatives like IDEA and AdvancedRM’s assistance is not needed until the child has to plan for “what’s next” after leaving the school environment.  When that is not happening, and you feel your child is not receiving the education or benefits for which he or she is entitled, you should seek assistance from the experienced care managers at AdvancedRM.  Our job is to advocate for your child.

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