The Supreme Court will hear arguments this week in a case that might upend special education. A school district is arguing that an autistic child’s education plan was good enough as it provided “some educational benefit.” In other words, just this side of the minimum.
The case began when Drew was still in elementary school. He started to exhibit serious behavior problems and went through periods of self-harming behavior, including head-banging and running away from school. By the end of 4th grade, Drew’s behavior had deteriorated to the point where he had made minimal progress on his educational goals. His parents argue that the individualized education program that the district developed for 5th grade was just offering more of the same. They withdrew him from public school, enrolled him in a Denver private school called Firefly Autism House, and argued that the district should be responsible for his tuition. [He’s doing well at the private school. – Dave]
On the one hand, a new definition of the responsibility of school districts toward students could be written. On the other hand, if the parents win, your local school district could be on the hook for private school tuition. Either way, it’s the latest chapter in a long saga starting in the 1970’s, when we decided that the best way to address special needs students was to create a bureaucracy. It’s something I’ve been living with over the last 17 years or so, and can’t take time to address here.
We don’t do education well for anybody, but we do it very poorly for those who need it most.