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Individuals With Disabilities Get New Rights

Until the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on March 22 in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, schools were required to provide students with disabilities educational benefits that were only "more than de minimis" ("Supreme Court Rejects Education Minimum Applied by Gorsuch," The New York Times, Mar. 22).  That standard will now change to educational benefits that are "appropriately ambitious in light of" the student's circumstances.

I believe the high court made the correct decision, but it left unanswered how school districts are going to fund this higher standard. Meeting the new standard will require hiring more teachers and psychologists who are properly trained.  Otherwise, further lawsuits will be filed.  I also think it's important to be realistic about what students with disabilities can achieve.  They are not a monolith.  For example, students diagnosed with autism have different needs than those diagnosed with Down's syndrome.

Individualized education plans for the 6.5 million students - or 13 percent of the public school population - are supposed to take these differences into account.  But apparently they don't always do so, or at least not to the satisfaction of parents.  That's why some parents take their children out of public schools and enroll them in private schools, demanding to recover the cost of tuition.

The higher standard will impact the already underfunded and overburdened system.  It's estimated that expenses for special education are now roughly a quarter of general education budgets ("Is the Bar Too Low for Special Education?" The Atlantic, Jan. 24).  Without further federal funding, I don't see how school districts can meet their new responsibiliites.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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