Supreme Court Unanimously Raises Bar for Special Education

Wednesday, the Supreme Court unanimously raised the bar for the educational benefits owed to millions of children with disabilities in one of the most significant special-education cases to reach the high court in decades.

The Supreme Court said that a child’s “educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances” and that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives” even if the child is not fully integrated into regular classrooms.

This opinion rejected the lower standard set by U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit and used it in a subsequent case by President Trump’s nominee to the high court, Neil Gorsuch, during his tenure on the appeals court.

With their unanimous decision, the justices sent a strong clear message that the 10th Circuit standard was too low.

“When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who wrote the 16-page opinion. “For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to ‘sitting idly . . . awaiting the time when they were old enough to “drop out.” ’ ”

Eli Andrade