How Little Can We Get Away With Teaching Him?


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.  

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4 Responses to How Little Can We Get Away With Teaching Him?

  1. One of my boys was diagnosed with Aspergers [which is now just considered ‘on the autism spectrum’] at age eight. I looked into a nearby-ish private school that specialized in educating on the spectrum. Tuition was in excess of $40k/year. I was unable, as a legally [but not physically] shared custody parent to even apply for any sort of assistance from the state or get any response from the school about financial aid or a tuition sliding scale. A voucher system might have made it possible for me to at least have some factual basis to try persuading my ex-wife to at least consider private schooling. She insisted on physical custody, and an 70-something year old judge wasn’t inclined to listen to my argument to the contrary, but she was never particularly interested in actually being a good parent.


  2. I found that my local system has excellent resources for kids with physical and/or intellectual disabilities, but almost nothing for those with asperger’s combined with high IQs. The local community college actually has a far better support system for kids like that.


  3. wpdavidd says:

    At the very least, there should be vouchers for the cost of attending public school that parents can apply to tuition wherever they want to sent their children. The parents are paying taxes that go toward public schooling already, anyway; to have to pay private school tuition out-of-pocket on top of that is like getting taxed twice.

    Liked by 1 person

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