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SCOTUS Revamps Disability Education

SCOTUS Revamps Disability Education

Court ruling affects 16,000 APS kids' education plans

New Mexico schools will have to meet a higher standard in developing individual educational plans for disabled students, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

The ruling could affect around 16,000 children in the Albuquerque Public Schools system. It applies to all school districts in the six states that fall under the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction.

The high court held that school districts must develop educational plans for disabled students that do more than meet the bare minimum. Instead, the plans must be “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances,” the court said.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, whose office filed a brief in the case, applauded the ruling, saying it reverses what had been the law in New Mexico.

The change means that educational plans for New Mexico students with disabilities must be designed so that students can make educational progress, rather than the achieve barely more than minimal advancement, which was the standard permitted by previous law.

“This is a huge victory for New Mexico students with disabilities and the ruling will help ensure they can participate more fully in school in order to receive the education they deserve,” Balderas said. “No child should be deprived of their constitutional right to a quality public education, and our students should be given every tool they need to succeed.”

APS has around 16,000 students with disabilities, or about one third of all such students in the state, said school district spokeswoman Monica Armenta. Exactly what the ruling would mean for those students, if anything, wasn’t immediately clear.

The six states in the Tenth Circuit—Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming—had been under less strict standards than school districts in other states when it came to educating students with disabilities because the circuit’s judges had adopted case law that included minimal educational standards, said New Mexico Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Sydow.

The case the Supreme Court decided involved an autistic Colorado student whose parents said his individualized educational program for fifth grade was basically the same one the child had in fourth grade. They complained that the plan wouldn’t have allowed their child to make any real educational progress. They took him out of public school and enrolled him in a private school. Later, the parents sued the school district seeking reimbursement for the private school tuition.


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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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