Supreme Court ruling: special education plans should be ‘appropriately ambitious’

Mar 27, 2017

Last week the Supreme Court unanimously ruled on a case that some say may change special education.

“It is a big victory,” says Martha Mock, associate professor and program director of inclusive education with the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester. “It acknowledges that we need to set a higher bar than simply housing students with disabilities in schools.”  

The ruling addressed the question of whether minimal progress for students with disabilities is enough, and decided that education plans should be “appropriately ambitious.”

Parents of Endrew, a student who has Autism and ADHD, originally filed a complaint with the Colorado Department of Education in 2012. This came after the parents saw their son make more progress in a private school than the public school he was originally attending.

“What the court decided is that if a “gen ed” student is expected to make progress every year and actually progress to the point where they go up a grade, then we should have similarly ambitious goals for students with disabilities,” says  Jenny Hutkowski, director of family and youth education at Starbridge, an advocacy organization for people with disabilities.

“While goals may be different, they still have to be aspirational,” Hutkowski added. “We want to have high expectations.”

Mock says that schools in the region already implement challenging plans for students with disabilities, but that improvements, still, could be made. 

The ruling won’t impact schools in New York since the state already holds similar standards for special education, says Karl Kristoff, general counsel for the Rochester City School District.

WXXI News received the following comment from Kristoff by email: 

“In our view, this was a balanced decision because it recognizes that the adequacy of an IEP still turns on the unique circumstances of the child for whom it was created. This case has not, and the law generally cannot, promise any particular educational outcome for a child being educated pursuant to the Act. There remains a standard of reasonableness that requires a prospective judgment by school officials. This is not inconsistent with the law in New York or with the District's approach to the provision of special education services.”

This story was produced by WXXI’s Inclusion Desk, focusing on disabilities and inclusion.