In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday better defined the federal standard public schools must meet for its special education students.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires school districts to provide a free, appropriate public education to students with disabilities, laid out in individualized education programs written by the students' parents and school district officials. During oral arguments in January, the school district's lawyer, Neal Katyal, maintained that a new standard wasn't needed, primarily because the current one, derived from a 1982 Supreme Court case, had "some bite". The family of the child identified as "Luke P." sought to have the district reimburse them for their child's tuition after an occupational therapist determined that the therapy provided by the Thompson R2-J district sometimes "unknowingly reinforced Luke's unwanted behaviors" and that Luke "had made little or no progress on many of his goals and objectives".
In eight out of 10 cases Judge Neil Gorsuch, who is now going through the confirmation process to fill the ninth seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, has handled involving students with disabilities, he has ruled in favor of the districts and not the students, and according to NPR, he was asked about that on Wednesday by Texas Sen.
Al Franken, a Democrat, brought the heat to Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Grouch Tuesday during his confirmation hearings for his decision as an appellate judge against a truck driver.
"Senator, I would have walked out the door", Gorsuch said. The fact that the Supreme Court was unanimous in repudiating Judge Gorsuch's standard for an "appropriate education" also shows that Judge Gorsuch's views are out of touch with the needs of disabled students and the educators who serve them.
At one point, Gorsuch seemed to reject a February 13 comment from senior White House adviser Stephen Miller that Trump's actions on national security "will not be questioned", which some interpreted as a signal that Trump could ignore judicial orders.
While the state education department and lower courts agreed with the school district, Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the court's opinion, did not.
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The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Endrew's school district.
In Wednesday's opinion, the Supreme Court stressed that more was required by the federal statute. Now that the Supreme Court has said that is the wrong standard, he said, "Fine, I will follow the law".
President Donald Trump nominated Gorsuch in January to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia's seat, which has been vacant for almost a year because Senate Republicans refused to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama's nominee.
Franken wasn't the only senator to grill Gorsuch over the dissent - Dianne Feinstein of California and Dick Durbin of IL also repeatedly questioned him on his ruling.
They enrolled him in a private academy that specialized in autism, where his behavior and learning improved markedly.
An attorney for the Colorado family who sued on behalf of their autistic son, called it "a game-changer". The Supreme Court's decision on Wednesday sends the case back to the appeals court to decide in light of its decision.
Disability advocacy groups cheered the ruling, saying it raises the expectations for learning-disabled students. The parents then filed a lawsuit in federal court, which also found in favor of the school.