Educators educating Educators

Sep 23

Sp Ed Law

There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.” ~~ Thomas Jefferson


What IDEA says about potential and benefits

IDEA does not require a district to maximize a student’s potential as long as the district complies with the IDEA’s procedures and develops a program that provides an educational benefit.


Four landmark court decisions relating to special education

A) U. S. Supreme Court, Rowley, (1982).

Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Amy Rowley, 458 U.S. 176. First special education decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. High court defined a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) as “access to an education” or a “basic floor of educational opportunity.”

“Purpose of IDEA is to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet the unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living…” l20 U.S.C. 1400(d)

Issues clarified: Courts defined “appropriate;” child “must receive meaningful educational benefit;” not entitled to the “best” education nor to an education that ”maximizes” the child’s potential.

Changed legal landscape: Requires all states to adopt high academic standards for all children, requires schools to test all children to determine if they are mastering these standards, Congress, IDEA 2004, Focus shifted from access to the schoolhouse and compliance with procedures to improved outcomes for children who receive special education services.

Doing Your Homework: 
Your Child's IEP & Progress in the General Education Curriculum 
by Suzanne Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw. (

B) U. S. Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, Daniel R. R. (1989)

One of the leading cases that opened the door to increased inclusion of children with disabilities in regular education classes.

The Court noted that Congress created a strong preference in favoring mainstreaming; that is, educating the student in the regular education classroom with supports.

The courts analysis of the LRE requirement, especially its interpretation of what is meant by providing supplementary aids and services in the regular classroom

C) Oberti, Third Circuit (1993)

1) School’s effort to make reasonable, honest effort to accommodate the child in the regular classroom is essential

2) The comprehensive educational benefit to the child in the regular classroom exceeds the benefit provided in the special education class

3) All efforts to sustain a child in the mainstream must be made before a child can be removed from the regular education classroom

D) Mercer Island, Ninth Circuit (2006)

Some special education scholars have called the Mercer Island decision by the Ninth Circuit Court in 2006 the transformation of the definition of FAPE and the first direct attack on Rowley (1982).

On December 8, 2006, the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington at Seattle decided the standard of what constitutes a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for children with disabilities that has been utilized since the early-1980s by school districts, state educational agencies, administrative, state and federal courts is no longer suitable.  This standard, as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1982 decision Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central SD v. Rowley, merely required "that a State provide specialized educational services to handicapped children".  Further, the U.S. Supreme Court stated that states were under no statutory obligation to "maximize each [disabled] child's potential 'commensurate with the opportunity provided other children'.  The U.S. District Court, in J.L. and M.L. and their minor daughter, K.L. v. Mercer Island School District (2006), found that the Rowley standard had "set the bar too low" for children with disabilities.

The district focused on providing accommodations and failed to provide K.L. with remediation so she could learn to read. The school’s IEPs were deficient because they did not aim “at achieving independence and self-sufficiency for the student and to provide ‘meaningful (i.e., significant) educational benefits’ in that regard. Finally, the IEPs failed to provide information about the times and teaching methodologies that would be used to teach K.L. to read.

The Judge found that “The IDEA is not simply about “access;” it is focused on transition services…an outcome-oriented process, which promotes movement from school to post-school activities…”

The Court found that having others read to K.L. and write for her “is totally at odds with the IDEA goals of self-sufficiency and independent living.” The Judge also found that “providing a ‘meaningful educational benefit’ under IDEA requires programs and results which reflect that Act’s emphasis on preparation for self-sufficiency.”


Federal laws

No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), 2001

When Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (and renamed it the "No Child Left Behind Act"), they described the purpose of the No Child Left Behind Act as follows:

"The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging state academic achievement standards and state academic assessments. (emphasis added) This purpose can be accomplished by ... meeting the educational needs of low-achieving children ... [including] children with disabilities." 20 U.S.C. § 6301

For children with disabilities who receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and have an Individualized Education Program (IEP), NCLB requires that the child will receive "reasonable adaptations and accommodations for students with disabilities ... necessary to measure the academic achievement of such students relative to State academic content and State student academic achievement standards."

Source: Doing Your Homework: 
Your Child's IEP & Progress in the General Education Curriculum by Suzanne Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 2004

When Congress reauthorized the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004, they found that:

"The education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by ... having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general curriculum to the maximum extent possible, in order to meet the developmental goals and ... the challenging expectations that have been established for all children and ... be prepared to lead productive and independent adult lives..." 20 U.S.C. 1400(c).

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act states that your child's IEP must be based on "the child's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance.” The IEP must include "a statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals, designed to meet the child's needs that result from the child's disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum...”

Your child's IEP must include "a statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aides and services, based on peer-reviewed research to the extent practicable, to be provided to the child or on behalf of the child to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum.” 20 U.S.C. 1414(d).

And that's not all.

When Congress reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, they added new language about "individual appropriate accommodations" on state and district testing and new requirements for alternate assessments. The child's IEP must include "a statement of any individual appropriate accommodations that are necessary to measure the academic achievement and functional performance of the child on State and district wide assessments..." 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)

Source: Doing Your Homework: 
Your Child's IEP & Progress in the General Education Curriculum by Suzanne Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw.



Welcome back to another school year. I hope your summer was relaxing and invigorating and you are looking forward to the approaching school year and the opportunity to stimulate and challenge your students’ minds.

This summer I was able to study Sir Ken Robinson, a British author, speaker and international advisor on education to governments, non-profits, and education organizations

I, like many people, find his writings and Ted Talks not only witty and inspiring but also thought-provoking and challenging. Much of his work deals with the diversity of intelligence, the power of imagination and creativity, and the importance of commitment to our own capabilities. He posits that the noticeable lack of them in our schools negatively affect students’ learning and teachers’ productivity and the absence of them is triggered by the demands of standardized testing.

I hope you find Sir Ken Robinson’s words inspiriting and challenging as I do and be mindful of them as you plan for the new year. Here is to a great 2017-2018 school year!