How Will AUSD Respond to Landmark Ruling for Special Education Students?

On March 22, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a unanimous landmark ruling in the Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley case raising the standards of progress for students in special education. The Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ruling that students only need to make minimal progress and found that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) “requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” 

Though the legal lingo in this ruling makes it difficult for the layperson to interpret, the ultimate takeaway is that school districts must do more to support students with disabilities.

The ruling was based on a case involving a Colorado student, Endrew F., who was experiencing extraordinary challenges in his educational program and not making progress in his learning. Endrew’s parents enrolled him in a private school where he began to thrive. The parents asked their school district to pay the private school tuition, and the district declined. 

Lower courts ruled in favor of the school district, but the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the child and family. This case is especially pertinent to Alameda Unified School District (AUSD).

At the Alameda Board of Education meeting on Feb. 28, parents of children enrolled in special education brought numerous complaints, many of which echoed the concerns noted by AUSD parent Farhad Matin in his letter to the editor (“AUSD Policy Outrages Parent,” Jan. 26). 

Parents assert that their children are not receiving needed services and support and that too often legal action is necessary to access an individualized, free and appropriate education program, as required by IDEA. The need to advocate for services leaves too many children at risk of not having access to an appropriate education since not all families have the time or resources to hire lawyers or other professional advocates.

AUSD is in the initial phases of developing a strategic plan for special education (as announced in their press release on Feb. 24). I urge the Special Education Strategic Planning Group to thoroughly explore how AUSD will ensure that students are adequately supported so that they meet the new higher standard of progress established in today’s Supreme Court ruling.

The group should begin by gathering high quality, unbiased data about current student progress, disagreements between families and AUSD over the past several years, and how those disputes were settled. Then they should develop specific, measurable strategies for ensuring that AUSD complies with this new ruling and create a plan for evaluating the district’s progress in providing a free and appropriate education to all students in special education. AUSD should report here in the Alameda Sun frequently on the Special Education Strategic Planning Group’s progress in this area so that all community members can be informed.

Sarah Taylor, MSW, PhD is a parent of a child in special education in AUSD and an Associate Professor of Social Work at Cal State East Bay.