Second Circuit endorses test for special needs educational placement

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] Thursday adopted a fact-specific test [opinion, PDF] for determining whether a disabled student has been placed in the 'least restrictive environment' as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) [text]. A three-judge panel explicitly endorsed the two-pronged fact-specific test that the Third Circuit adopted in 1993 [Oberti v. Clementon School District decision, DOC], holding:

A court should consider, first, whether education in the regular classroom, with the use of supplemental aids and services, can be achieved satisfactorily for a given child, and, if not, then whether the school has mainstreamed the child to the maximum extent appropriate...

Courts facing these cases must engage in an individualized and fact-specific inquiry into the nature of the student's condition and the school's particular efforts to accommodate it, ever mindful of the IDEA’s purpose of educating children with disabilities, 'to the maximum extent appropriate,' together with their non-disabled peers...Moreover, courts must keep in mind our deferential position with respect to state educational authorities crafting educational policy...Nevertheless our review must be searching, and we must recognize that even when educational authorities act with the best intentions they may sometimes fall short of their obligations under the IDEA, and courts must then act to ensure compliance with Congress’s directives.
Since IDEA was signed into law in 2004 [JURIST report], several of its provisions have been tested in the federal courts of appeals. In August, the Ninth Circuit upheld [JURIST report; opinion, PDF] a California public school district's policy that parents may only observe their disabled children in the classroom for twenty minutes in order to evaluate the school's proposed education plan. Earlier that month, the Tenth Circuit found that a district court erred [JURIST report; opinion, PDF] when it refused to grant qualified immunity to school officials who placed a child in a special education program designed to control his repeated outbursts. In 2007, the US Supreme Court held [JURIST report] that a parent of a special needs child - and not just the special needs child - has independent, enforceable rights under IDEA.


 

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