Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Special Education Rights

Though the Supreme Court is often known for its partisan divide, the justices were in lockstep on Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. Instead, schools must offer an education program "reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances" and that the essential function of the educational plan is to "set out a plan for pursuing academic and functional advancement". The decision sets a higher standard now for how public schools must educate students with disabilities.

Students with learning disabilities are due "appropriately ambitious" education plans that ensure they will advance through public schools similarly to other students, a unanimous court said. They said schools must offer more than the bare minimum in educational benefits to disabled children, setting aside a lower court ruling that had found the school district had satisfied federal law by doing so. "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'".

Either way, Gorsuch said today, "I understand today that the Supreme Court has indicated that the [previous] standard is incorrect".

"I am shocked it still happens every year that I get women, not men, raising their hand to that question", he said.

"Precedent is more important than what I think, and my agreement or disagreement doesn't add weight towards it", Gorsuch said.

Endrew had been enrolled in Colorado public schools for several years when his parents, feeling that he wasn't making adequate progress, moved him to a private school and sued the Douglas County Schools for the tuition cost.

While the Court rejected the standard applied by the Tenth Circuit (and pursued by the school district), the Court also rejected the standard proposed by the parents.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asked Gorsuch about whether he felt bound by 10th Circuit precedent in Thompson.

Although the court did not go so far as to adopt a "substantial equal opportunity" standard that the Endrew family had sought - one that would match that provided to students without disabilities - their main goal was to have the court "thoroughly denounce this lowest of the low".

Durbin also said Gorsuch had ruled against disabled students in eight out of 10 cases dealing with the IDEA.

But Durbin argued that the exact wording of the precedent Gorsuch referenced was "more than de minimus".

It's a ruling that could affect millions of families who have children with special needs. They have been a key part of efforts to adapt the Supports Intensity Scale for children, published by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to help youths actively participate in the community and engage in activities and life experiences.

Nonetheless, disability advocates hailed the ruling as a victory.

The Supreme Court's decision changes the equation for schools, he said, giving parents a "posture of greater strength" in negotiating for what they believe is best for their children. I urge you not to confirm him without first carefully examining his views concerning executive power and assuring yourselves that he will forcefully defend individual rights, and the authority of Congress and the federal courts, in the context of national security.

Gorsuch, still responding to Leahy, quoted a mentor of his, saying "the real test of the rule of law is where the government, government could lose in its own courts and accept those judgments".

  • Larry Hoffman