2016-10-02T140040Z_01_TOR305_RTRIDSP_3_USA-COURT-INSIDERTRADING

Supreme Court to decide: What level of education do public schools legally owe to students with disabilities?

The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday in a dispute over the level of education that public schools must provide to millions of children with disabilities, a case that advocates describe as
the most significant special-education issue to reach the high court in three decades.

The question is whether public schools owe disabled children “some” educational benefit — which courts have determined to mean just-above-trivial progress — or whether students legally deserve something more: a substantial, “meaningful” benefit.

To advocates for children with disabilities, this should not be a difficult decision. Although the Supreme Court upheld the lower standard in 1982, Congress has since amended the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The law — which outlines what states must do in return for receiving federal special-education funds — is meant not just to open the schoolhouse door to disabled children, they argue, but also to make sure that those children get an education that gives them a shot at equal opportunity, independent life and full participation in society.

That means schools must be required to provide students with a real, meaningful education, they argue. “I can’t even believe that this is really a question for the court to wrestle with,” said Gary Mayerson, a civil rights lawyer and board member of Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization.

The case to be heard Wednesday is Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, brought by the family of a boy diagnosed with autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. His conditions complicated his efforts to communicate and socialize, and that left him struggling with phobias and compulsive behaviors.

Endrew F., who goes by Drew, started attending schools in Douglas County — south of Denver — in preschool and began showing an increase in behavioral problems in the second grade, according to court records. He was yelling, crying and dropping to the floor. By fourth grade, the problems had become more frequent and severe; he was kicking walls, banging his head and bolting from the classroom. He went to the bathroom on the floor of a “calming room,” and he was able to escape from the school building and run into the street.

His parents said their son made almost no academic or social progress over that period, and they didn’t see a commitment from the district to find a solution. The goals in his Individualized Education Program (IEP) — a legally binding blueprint that laid out the services he would receive and the progress he was expected to make — hardly changed from year to year, according to court records, and there was little written evidence that he was making gains.

Drew’s parents withdrew him from public school at the end of fourth grade, in 2010, and placed him in a private school that specialized in educating children with autism. He made progress immediately, they said, achieving IEP goals in months that he had been working on for years.

It was a relief.

Drew, now 17, continues to attend the private school, his parents said, where he is learning vocational skills and preparing for life after high school.

Under federal law, Drew’s parents were entitled to seek reimbursement for the private school tuition, which approached $70,000 per year. But they had to prove that their son had been denied the “free appropriate public education” to which he had a right under federal special-education law. And to do so, they had to prove that he hadn’t been making adequate progress.

But the Douglas County School District disagreed, arguing that while Drew was not learning as quickly as his parents would have liked, he was making some progress — enough to satisfy the law.

The family lost its case before an administrative law judge in 2012. They lost again in a suit in U.S. District Court and a third time at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

“This is without question a close case,” Judge Timothy Tym­kovich wrote in his opinion for the 10th Circuit. It is clear, he continued, that Drew is thriving at the private school. “But it is not the District’s burden to pay for his placement there when Drew was making some progress under its tutelage. That is all that is required.”

The court’s endorsement of that low bar was a blow to Drew’s parents. “What is the point of the law, if it doesn’t help the child?” said his mother, Jennifer.

In their briefs to the Supreme Court, Drew and his family argued that schools should be obligated to provide children with disabilities with “substantially equal opportunities to achieve academic success, attain self-sufficiency and contribute to society.” They won the support of the Obama administration, whose Justice Department submitted an amicus brief calling on the high court to find a requirement that children have an opportunity to make “significant educational progress.”

More than 100 members of Congress also support Drew and his parents, arguing in an amicus brief that the just-above-trivial standard is “vanishingly low” and runs contrary to Congress’s intent in IDEA.

The Douglas County School District disagrees, arguing that the Supreme Court’s decision in a 1982 case, Board of Education v. Rowley, should stand. In that case, the court rejected the argument that schools owed disabled children an opportunity to maximize their potential. The justices ruled that Congress intended to ensure “some educational benefit” for children with disabilities, the standard that has been explicitly adopted by five Circuit Courts of Appeals.

“This Court answered the question presented 34 years ago,” lawyers for the school district wrote in a brief last month. “That decision was correct.”

(In Rowley, the justice also said that Congress intended to make “access meaningful” for students with disabilities, giving rise to the “meaningful” educational benefit standard that has been adopted by two circuits.)

The district’s supporters include the National School Boards Association and AASA, an association of district superintendents, which both argued that raising expectations of schools could encourage more litigation.

William E. Trachman, the district’s legal counsel, declined through a spokeswoman to discuss the facts of the case given the pending litigation.

“The District complies with every facet of federal law in making sure that students with special needs are not only provided services, but that educational experts and the student’s parents are maximally involved in the process, and that every Individualized Education Plan is personalized, holistic and ambitious,” Trachman said in a statement.

source;http://www.washingtonpost.com

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What My Son’s Dyspraxia Taught Me About His Autism

How my son Isaac’s autism plays out physically never used to weigh too heavily on me. Mainly because it was as a mental condition that I’d feel its full force.

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It’s not that there haven’t been noticeable physical manifestations. There absolutely have – from simple coordination issues, to how he holds objects for everyday tasks, to sport and more. It’s just that the more domineering psychological and social effects have tended to force physicality onto the periphery. The toil demanded to study the workings of Isaac’s wildly complicated mind took precedence.

Sensory processing difficulties similarly perched on the sidelines; grouped in one amorphous, mysterious whole. His senses, we’ve always known, are skew whiff, so navigating him through sights, smells and spaces has been tough – but there’s been little in the way of genuine understanding and treatment.

Our unreconstructed knowledge of Isaac means always front of mind is: obtaining order in a chaotic world, heightened senses, stimulation seeking, and discomfort distinguishing noise and sound, food phobias and maddeningly narrow diet. However, true tangibility has been difficult to track somehow.

With occupational therapy elevated to one of his main sources of treatment, some discomforting truths have only recently started to emerge. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. It encompasses the whole gamut of physical skills. Balance, touch, vision, coordination, strength. Programming in people with disabilities what is so instinctive in people without.

Because such has been the inscrutability of Isaac’s physical and sensory symptoms, it’s taken a year of intense occupational therapy to really interrogate them. Yet the diligent, drawn out approach didn’t stop the shock and degree of sadness I felt from what the Occupational Therapist sensitively told us at the conclusion of his assessments.

Which is that Isaac effectively has a diagnosis of dyspraxia. A developmental disorder of the brain (in childhood) that causes difficulty in activities requiring coordination and movement. Profoundly physical symptoms then.

Saying his autism, in my mind at least, has parlayed into a more complex mental and physical condition is purposefully dramatic. The physical and sensory struggles Isaac has have a tangibility now. I can’t help but feel the unlevel playing field he’s on anyway has got that bit more wonky.

Fortunately this new discovery of dyspraxia, this new label to process and live with, comes with a confidence that it’s awash with the sea of knowledge we need to get by and get on. It all slots in to his autism too.

The facts are fierce though, focussing as they do around sensory over-responsiveness, weak balance, lack of body awareness, visual and auditory struggles.

Highlighting all these physical and sensory problems is instructive. However, viewing them in isolation is a misleading and miserable process. What has actually happened with the detailed, expert reporting of dyspraxia is a crystallisation of my confusion with sensory processing difficulties and nagging physical concerns into a more complete, coherent understanding of his autism. Into an interlinked mental, physical and sensory condition.

A microcosm of this is the poor body awareness he has of himself and others. It means he requires much tactile input to feel sensory information and process it. He seeks to hug people and squeeze them as a way of understanding his body in relation to someone else’s. He can’t just be naturally spatially aware. It’s like he needs to lay physical markers.

But the social reward he’s had from family cannot be transferred to teachers. One step forward, one back. How complicated, how cruel.

My thoughtless ‘don’t squeeze’ dismissals, and blanket talk of not being overly physical shame me. He can’t just switch of this innate, life surviving mechanism he has. Intense therapy, squeezing implements, exercises, all one on one, over months and years are needed. As are social stories and aids to help read emotions.

Visual perception and visual motor skills are equally major challenges for him. Copying simple physical actions (in PE for example) – something so instinctive to typical people – is fraught for him.

The impacts on everyday tasks are huge. Picking up cutlery on a laid, full table and eating a meal is terrifically tortuous for him such are the fine spatial and visual skills needed. He sees everything, all seemingly separate unconnected objects; this photographic memory is a handicap as well as something incredible.

The school year ahead will have a heavy focus on the physical and sensory. It will be exercising my mind like never before, knowing we need to adapt a lot to support him properly. Sensory integration and action skills that are so critical to life and come so laboriously unnaturally to him. Life skills – dressing, eating, basic participation in activities. These will be painstakingly practiced by him. There will be frustration and anger. Impatience will trump patience most of the time.

source;http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/