Special needs litigation is one of the most common legal issue dealt with in educational circles. IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) does not define “appropriate” which leaves the interpretation of an adequate level of educational services and responsibilities open to a great deal of subjectivity. This analysis provides a brief summary of special needs cases and the implications for school systems and educational administrators.
In Cedar Rapids Community School District vs. Garrett F., the parents of a mentally coherent but wheelchair and ventilator bound student wanted the school district to provide nursing services for their child so he could attend school. The US Supreme Court decided that it was the school’s responsibility to provide this student with continuous nursing supervision while he was at school. The court stated that the nursing service was a supportive service necessary for the education of the child.
Shannon Carter’s parents appealed to Florence County School District Four to appropriately assist their learning disabled daughter for years. The Carters continued to watch their average intelligence daughter lag behind in the public school setting and decided to enroll her in a private school that specializes in teaching learning disabled students. The US Supreme Court ruled that the school district must compensate the Carters of the educational expenses they incurred because the district failed to provide appropriate services for the child.
The Felix and Gonzales cases demonstrate that if schools are not held accountable they may not even make an attempt to meet the special needs of students. The Felix probe discovered that the state was not providing funding near or even close to an adequate amount for schools to meet the requirements of IDEA. Although the Gonzales case occurs in the voluntary education arena, it highlights the struggles that individuals with disabilities incur throughout their lives and clearly points out that the definition of appropriate accommodations is highly subjective.
These cases demonstrate the challenges that are brought before educators as they attempt to provide an “appropriate” education for each child. Special needs students must be evaluated individually and their individual education plan must be designed around realistic standards. School systems and administrators walk a tight-rope between adequately meeting the needs of every student and balancing educational integrity issues with the fiscal budget. In a perfect world, there would be plenty to go around for everyone and everybody’s needs could be met to the fullest. In reality, we are left to prioritize spending as best we can. Decisions within the schools must be made as quickly as possible based upon the legal precedents set forth by case law and within the financial constraints of the school.
CEDAR RAPIDS COMMUNITY SCHOOL DIST. V.GARRET F. (96-1793) 526 U.S. 66 (1999)
106 F.3d 822, affirmed
A student named...