The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act: changing what constitutes an "appropriate" education.

Author:Valentino, Andrea
  1. INTRODUCTION II. THE HISTORY OF THE INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES EDUCATION IMPROVEMENT ACT A. Background B. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act C. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. D. 1997 Amendments to the Individual with Disabilities Education Act III. BOARD OF EDUCATION V. ROWLEY: THE SUBSTANTIVE STANDARD DEFINING "APPROPRIATE" A. Facts and Procedural History B. The Supreme Court's Opinion IV. THE "EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY" STANDARD A. Justice Blackmun's Concurrence B. Justice White's Dissent V. POST-ROWLEY DECISIONS A. Polk v. Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit 16 B. Deal v. Hamilton County Board of Education VI. THE INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES EDUCATION IMPROVEMENT ACT: A CALL TO INCREASE THE SUBSTANTIVE STANDARD DEFINING "APPROPRIATE" A. IEP Amendments B. Highly Qualified Teachers VII. CONGRESSIONAL INTENT AND THE INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES EDUCATION IMPROVEMENT ACT VIII. THE ADOPTION OF A NEW SUBSTANTIVE STANDARD IX. FINANCIAL CONCERNS A. Past Financial Difficulties B. Resolutions to Solve Financial Difficulties X. CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

    Christopher, diagnosed at six years old with Asperger's Syndrome, (1) is a child with a disability. (2) Upon his diagnosis, Christopher's public school developed his Individualized Education Program (IEP) (3) to serve Christopher's educational needs; however, his needs went unmet. Throughout Christopher's four years at his public school, his parents repeatedly met with school officials about the appropriateness of services being offered to Christopher as his IEP did not account for the individualized class support Christopher required. (4) Despite consistent and dedicated efforts by his parents, school officials continually informed them there was nothing more the school or teachers could do. (5) Unwilling to risk their son's educational future and unsure they would be able to disprove the vague "meaningful educational benefit" substantive standard of review for an IEP, Christopher's parents assumed the costs of placing their child in a private school specializing in educating children with disabilities. (6)

    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA or the Act) identifies thirteen categories of disabilities that qualify children for its educational protections. (7) The Act was devised to provide children with qualifying disabilities a "free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living." (8) Problematic, however, is IDEA's failure to define the term "appropriate." (9) Therefore, the United States Supreme Court in Board of Education v. Rowley (10) defined "appropriate" by stating schools have met this substantive standard if an IEP confers "some educational benefit." (11) This definition, "conferring an educational benefit," (12) has purposely been left very broad as the courts have avoided establishing more stringent guidelines regarding the substantive aspect of an IEP. (13)

    The recent Reauthorization of the IDEA seeks to raise the bar regarding what constitutes an "appropriate" education. The Reauthorized IDEA, which became effective July 1, 2005 and entitled the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEIA), amended the IDEA and changed the established substantive guideline by emphasizing and outlining new provisions that must be present for an IEP to be deemed "appropriate" in addition to increasing training and qualifications of special educators. (14) These substantive provisions require courts to alter their interpretations of what is considered an "appropriate" education for students with disabilities. The IDEIA demands a more rigorous substantive guideline for IEP measurement than the "some educational benefit" standard developed in Rowley. (15) Courts should therefore adopt the "educational opportunity" standard proposed by the concurring and dissenting opinions in Rowley as the new substantive standard defining "appropriate" with regards to a "free appropriate public education."

    Part II of this paper examines the historical evolution of the IDEIA. Part III explains the current substantive standard of "appropriate" as defined by Rowley. Part IV discusses the concurring and dissenting opinions from Rowley and the "educational opportunity" standard that these opinions propose to be the substantive standard supported by the law and congressional intent. Part V analyzes the decisions of the Third (16) and Sixth (17) Circuit Courts of Appeals post-Rowley and the implications the decisions have on adopting a more viable substantive meaning for "appropriate" within the definition of a "free appropriate public education." Part VI highlights the amendments to the Act in the recent Reauthorization and how these amendments establish a need for the adoption of a higher substantive standard. Part VII furthers the proposition that a new substantive standard should be adopted by the courts by analyzing the congressional intent and goals for the IDEIA. Part VIII proposes that the new substantive standard by which to measure a child's special education program should be the educational opportunity standard pronounced in Rowley's concurring and dissenting opinions. Part IX analyzes the effect of financial considerations on the adoption of a new substantive standard and concludes that these constraints should not hinder the progress that the IDEIA seeks to ensure for the education of students with disabilities. Part X concludes that the definition purported in Rowley is no longer applicable because of the amendments made in the IDEIA and the congressional intent.


    1. Background

      In the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education, the United States Supreme Court determined all children must be afforded an equal educational opportunity. (18) While the Court was primarily speaking to the inequality of racially segregated public schools, the decision also impacted parents of disabled students. (19) Brown provided the foundation for parents of children with disabilities to begin to challenge school districts for the segregation of disabled children. (20) These challenges first arose in two federal district court cases that both ruled in favor of providing students with disabilities access to public education. (21)

      In Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, (22) the district court enjoined state officials and school districts from denying or postponing "any mentally retarded child access to a free public program of education and training." (23) Mills v. Board of Education (24) further held that no child eligible for public education shall be excluded from public school placement unless "such child is provided (a) an adequate alternative educational services suited to the child's needs, which may include special education or tuition grants, and (b) a constitutionally adequate prior hearing and periodic review of the child's status, progress, and the adequacy of any educational alternative." (25) Even with these two district court holdings in conjunction with the Supreme Court in Brown stipulating that "education is a 'right which must be made available to all on equal terms,'" children with disabilities were continually segregated from regular education programming for twenty-one years following the Brown decision. (26)

      Prior to 1975, the educational needs of "millions of children with disabilities were not being fully met." (27) Schools continued to routinely exclude children with disabilities from the educational setting, (28) allowing only children with mild impairments to participate in regular classrooms. (29) Children with moderate disabilities received little more than custodial care services at school and severely disabled students were referred to institutions. (30) In response to this monumental disparate educational treatment that students with disabilities received in comparison to their non-disabled peers, the federal government enacted The Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975. (31)

    2. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act

      The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) sought to ensure all handicapped children would be legally entitled to an education (32) by providing substantial federal financial assistance to all public schools that were in compliance with its standards and were committed to educating disabled students. (33) One such standard set forth by this Act established a child's substantive right to a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE). (34) In providing students with a disability a FAPE, schools became responsible for locating and identifying students suspected of possessing a disability, engaging a multi-disciplinary team to conduct evaluations, and developing a personalized education program based on the needs of the child. (35) The EAHCA also stipulated that a FAPE should be provided in the least restrictive environment able to meet the student's unique needs and in an environment that includes non-disabled peers to the extent possible. (36)

    3. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

      Even though the EAHCA proposed a dramatic educational reform through its provision of a FAPE for students with disabilities, the Act's programs failed in meeting Congress's desired educational goals. (37) Students with disabilities were still not being educated appropriately in accordance with the established standards of the EAHCA and Congress's ideals. (38) Therefore, Congress reauthorized the EAHCA in 1990 and titled the new legislation the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). (39) Providing a FAPE, however, remained an imperative function of the IDEA "(40) as emphasis continued to be placed upon this provision. (41) The IDEA defined "free appropriate public...

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