Supreme Court ruling signals new day for special education

The Supreme Court of the United States


When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in March that children with special needs deserve more than basic access to education, millions of parents collectively cheered.

In its recent ruling on Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the court’s opinion calls on school districts to provide the nation’s roughly 6.5 million special education students with the opportunities to make meaningful, appropriately ambitious progress.

The ruling could provide the eye-opening spark to parents who may not realize their children deserve more.

“Hopefully this case is a turning point toward a raised bar for the type of education we provide to our most vulnerable students,” said Elizabeth Cramer, a professor of special education in the School of Education and Human Development. “It took parents who were strong advocates for their child and who knew their rights to bring this case forward.”

Since 1975, federal law has called for students with disabilities to have Individual Education Programs (IEP) that address a child’s specific needs, Cramer said.

In the initial complaint, the Denver-area school district was accused of reusing a fifth-grade boy’s IEP even though the child’s parents believed his academic progress had stalled in fourth grade.

School districts are also required to monitor a student’s IEP goals regularly to ensure that students are making progress under the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In addition, reports generally must be sent home four times a year in conjunction with report cards, and IEPs should be revisited and rewritten annually.

Meeting the standard set by the high court might prove challenging for school districts, Cramer adds.

“Unfortunately, schools are often overwhelmed and little compensation or relief time is provided to teachers to complete IEP meetings,” Cramer said. “Therefore, IEPs are often rushed to be completed and there is not always time to carefully evaluate data and create the best plan for the child as the law had intended.

“Schools definitely need more resources,” she added.