Supreme Court weighs heavily in favor of special ed rights

Dive Brief:

  • In an 8-0 opinion Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a "merely more than de minimis" interpretation of students' special education rights does not go far enough.
  • Education Week reports that the ruling in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District overturns a previous decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in which the same language was used, and that it was also used in another special education opinion by Trump Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil M. Gorsuch.
  • In his opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts referenced Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, saying, "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.'"

Dive Insight:

The Supreme Court's decision comes as Gorsuch is facing confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate. Gorsuch has ruled on a range of special education cases throughout his career, attracting scrutiny from New York lawyer Gary S. Mayerson, who wrote in a letter to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) that "Judge Gorsuch's low expectations and equally low educational standards" make him "a poor choice to be considered for the high court." As noted above, the Supreme Court's ruling today contradicts his stance in an unrelated case he previously ruled on, and he was reportedly questioned about the ruling during his hearings, conceded that he was wrong in that decision.

"If anyone is suggesting that I like a result where an autistic child happens to lose — that's a heartbreaking accusation to me," he said, adding that "I was wrong because I was bound by circuit precedent. And I’m sorry."

The ruling also comes at a time when the U.S. Department of Education, under new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, has received scrutiny for its page on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act going offline for several days. The law became a hot topic during DeVos' confirmation hearings when she didn't seem immediately familiar with it. 

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Filed Under: K12 Policy & Regulation