The US Supreme Court just strengthened rights for students with disabilities

FILE - In this February 1, 2017 file photo, Chief Justice John Roberts speaks in Lexington, Ky.

The federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees a "Free Appropriate Public Education" to all students with disabilities.

"Wow, I haven't seen Ted Cruz that giddy since that one time he got a LinkedIn request", Noah said.

"But that child's educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom", Roberts wrote.

Any way you look at it, though, the timing of the SCOTUS decision throws Gorsuch and his Republican friends a real curve. "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'".

"But the fact of the matter is I was bound by circuit precedent, and so was the panel of my court", he added, while noting that there are other examples where his 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for children with disabilities. The documents provided by the Justice Department to the Committee suggest that Judge Gorsuch was comfortable with the policies and with the Bush administration's defenses of them, and, indeed, that it was challenges to the policies that troubled him. But advocates for children with disabilities nonetheless hailed yesterday's decision as a big step forward - a ruling that, in light of its role in the Gorsuch hearings, is also not likely to be forgotten anytime soon. In a 2015 ruling in which Gorsuch did not participate, the court said the district had satisfied its obligations under the law by providing a "merely more than de minimis", or minimal, educational benefit and that Endrew had made "some academic progress".

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said Gorsuch had read the law the wrong way and made the precedent worse by adding the word "merely" to the standard.

Disability advocacy groups argued that schools must offer more than the bare minimum of services to children with special needs.

The plaintiffs' son, only identified as Endrew F., was diagnosed with autism and attention-deficit disorder. They had argued that educational programs for disabled students should meet goals "substantially equal" to those for children without disabilities. Roberts rejected that standard, saying it was "entirely unworkable". But after the Supreme Court rejected the "merely more than de minimis" standard in Endrew F. In Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P.

Colorado lawyer Jack Robinson represented both Endrew and the Perkins family in the 2008 case.

After pulling the child out of the public school and enrolling in a private school, the student began to perform better academically. Under IDEA, if a school can't meet the "free and appropriate" standards for a student, the family can seek reimbursement of private-school expenses, which is what the family in this case did. The parents then filed a lawsuit in federal court, which also found in favor of the school.

Robinson said that until now, too many schools have treated parents dismissively, understanding that - because of the 10th Circuit's rulings - they would not be held accountable for failing to adequately serve a child with a disability. Thus, while courts are not to substitute their own judgment for that of the educational professionals, those professionals are expected to be able to provide explanations for their IEP decisions.

Francisco Negron, general counsel of the National School Boards Association, said the court had issued a "measured" decision "that isn't really upsetting the apple cart".

  • Larry Hoffman