by Kim Braun
Late last week, the Supreme Court decided a case increasing educational requirements that schools must provide for students with disabilities. Previous rulings stipulated that, under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), special education needed only to meet a standard defined as more than the minimum education. The Supreme Court now indicates that this threshold was too low. While the court did not specify that special education achieve equivalency with regular education, it lifted the standard to an “‘appropriately ambitious’” standard where “‘every child … [has] the chance to meet challenging objectives’” (qtd. in Brown and Marimow). The court also indicated that these levels would vary depending upon the unique needs of the special education student, typically delineated in individualized education plans (IEPs).
This Supreme Court decision nicely illustrates federalism at work. The court performed its checking function on the other branches by ruling on the administration of legislation. Interest groups were also evident during the process: Autism Speaks and the National School Boards Association voiced support and opposition, respectively, for raised standards. These groups, among others, filed amicus briefs during the judicial process to advocate for their members’ perspectives during the deliberations.
Interestingly, the case connects to recent Trump nominees: the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals previously decided the case. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch was not involved in the initial ruling, but used the precedent in later cases he decided on that same court. The father of a student affected by a Gorsuch ruling on the standard testified against the judge’s nomination to the highest court, relating how the decision negatively affected his child. Additionally, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ responses to questions about her plans to implement IDEA concerned several confirmation committee members, who felt that she was not adequately familiar with the legislation.
Brown, Emma, and Ann E. Marimow. “Supreme Court sets higher bar for education of students with disabilities.” Washington Post, 22 Mar. 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/supreme-court-sets-higher-bar-for-education-of-students-with-disabilities/2017/03/22/fcb7bc62-0f16-11e7-9d5a-a83e627dc120_story.html?utm_term=.82bb58ec726c.