If you are a parent or teacher of a child with Down syndrome, you’ll want to follow the proceedings of a Ninth Circuit case that may change how and where school districts place students with intellectual disabilities.
The case revolves around a 2nd grade Arizona boy with Down syndrome whose parents refused to send him to a self-contained classroom at a different school, because they argue he was making progress at his homeschool in general education. Starting in kindergarten, the student attended his neighborhood school in a regular classroom with a paraprofessional, and was pulled out 110 minutes for “intensive instruction” in reading, math and writing.
“Student was demonstrating progress on his IEP goals, including the majority of the goals that were implemented by the resource teacher (academic/social- behavior goals). Additionally, the student’s resource teacher admitted that his communication skills greatly improved from two-word phrases, which were limited to things he knew about, such as about his mom, dad, or sister, or naming things that he knew, to three to four-word phrases. The impact on his typical peers and teachers was described by his kindergarten teacher as ‘amazing’,” according to the plaintiff’s open brief (parent’s attorney filed).
The Gilbert Unified School District has 30 days after the plaintiff’s brief to file their own, but the following link gives you a more detail description of the district’s possible argument. Click here.
Despite his progress, the Gilbert Unified School District in Arizona decided just a few months into his kindergarten year that the boy should have 20 more minutes of “intensive instruction.” This time in a self-contained classroom at another school. The school district said the new school would be better for the student, and provide him with “more services at his level with peers in a small environment that could have been better for him.” This subjective opinion was the only evidence they used to propose a change in the boy’s IEP.
The parents argued that it amounted to a change of placement without the proper evaluation of his progress under his current IEP, but the district argued it was just a change in location. Although the Special Education Director testified the model of teaching was different at the new school, where the students would be in a self-contained class 100% of the day using a replacement curriculum.
Sound familiar? It’s likely, if you have a school-aged child with Down syndrome, your child or someone you know has fought a similar battle. After 30 years of research and federal law to back up inclusion with proper supports, parents are still fighting for their child to be included in kindergarten of all places. And the battle often gets more difficult as students progress through school.
But Endrew vs. Douglas County has give parents an opportunity to demand more for our children. Last spring the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that schools must provide special education that enable students with even the most significant cognitive disabilities to meet “challenging” and “appropriately ambitious” goals. For these students, progress may be measured against “alternate academic achievement standards” designed to promote further education, work, and independence.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals must now decide if the school district made a change in placement and threatened the student’s access to a Free and Appropriate Education in the Least Restrictive Environment as the parents argue, or if it was simply a change in location as the school district contends.
The National Down Syndrome Congress and National Down Syndrome Society have written amicus briefs in support of the Arizona boy, stating the Supreme Court’s Decision in Endrew announced a “Markedly More Demanding” standard for educating students with disabilities, reflecting the IDEA’s high expectation for students. The organizations’ amicus brief also describes the research that proves “students with disabilities benefit from being included in regular classrooms with non-disabled peers.” You can read both briefs here and here.
Fortunately, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allows the Arizona boy to stay in his current placement while the court proceedings continue. He’s now in a regular 2nd grade classroom at his homeschool, and his parents say he continues to make progress.
The map below shows the states that will be impacted by the Ninth Circuit of Appeals decision. If you live in a different district the court decision doesn’t have to be followed, but could be used as a possible argument by parents or a school district in similar due process hearings.
The parents and school district can still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if they are unhappy with the Ninth Circuit’s decision. I’ll keep you posted on the court case as it unfolds.
You can read about the family in a local Gilbert, Arizona news story here.
You can also read a more recent blog post about the Arizona boy’s mom who has fought for the last 2-years to ensure he remains at his neighborhood school. Click here.