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Month: March 2017

Supreme Court Unanimous in Decision to Provide More Educational Opportunities for Students with Disabilities

Washington, March 22 – The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday in favor of higher educational standards for children with a disability in one of the most important education cases in decades.

The case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, argued just how much educational benefit public schools must provide. While some lower courts had ruled the need for a “meaningful” educational benefit, others required only a bit more than de minimis – the bare minimum.

During the hearing, the Supreme Court discussed nine different levels of standards of education. They ruled unanimously (8-0) that schools must do more than provide “merely more than de minimis” education for students with a disability and instead provide them with the opportunity to make “appropriately ambitious” progress.

There are roughly 6.4 million students with disabilities between ages three to 21. Roughly 13 percent of all American students are students with disabilities, making this case important for a wide group of students.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion, stating that a school must offer an individualized education program that is “reasonably calculated” for each child’s circumstance in order to meet its obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

“It cannot be right that the IDEA generally contemplates grade-level advancement for children with disabilities who are fully integrated in the regular classroom, but is satisfied with barely more than de minimis progress for children who are not,” the opinion read.

The “merely more than de minimis” language has been used in other special education cases in the lower courts, including by Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Gorsuch answered questions on the new ruling during his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a national legal advocacy organization advancing the rights of people with mental disabilities, often advocates for students with disabilities to receive the educational opportunities other students receive.

Prior to the decision, Ira Burnim, Legal Director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, said: “We hope that the Supreme Court will issue a decision in Endrew F. that recognizes that an ‘appropriate’ education for students with disabilities is one that reflects the expectations we have for all students.”

Each year 300,000 students with disabilities leave school – almost 40 percent without a high school degree. Only 65 percent of students with disabilities complete high school, which is a key contributor leading to just 1-in-3 Americans with disabilities having a job, causing many people with disabilities to live a life of poverty. This, in turn, leads to high costs of government benefits for those not working, plus the increased risk of falling into the school-to-prison pipeline. Indeed, there are more than 750,000 people with disabilities behind bars in our country today, most of whom are illiterate.

“As someone with a disability, who also knows what it means to parent a public school student with multiple disabilities, I am thrilled with this decision,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, a nonprofit fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. “School for students with disabilities today can be a disaster. Our family had to move so that our children could go to a great public school that does the right things for students with disabilities. However, most people do not have the flexibility to pick up and move to a different school district. Every child should have access to the education and skills they need to succeed. This Supreme Court decision can mean that students with disabilities can succeed, just like anyone else.”

In 1975, Congress passed a federal law requiring school districts to provide a “free appropriate public education” for children with disabilities, which includes individualized education plan (IEP) for students to be included in public schools. The law also provided federal funds for these services. The act was renamed IDEA in 1990. Unfortunately, IDEA has never been fully funded, leading to some school districts struggling to keep up.

Endrew F. (Drew), a boy with autism, was not improving his public school, so his parents sent him to a private school where he progressed at a much quicker pace. Under IDEA, parents can receive tuition reimbursement from the school district if their child does not receive enough “educational benefit” from public schooling. Drew’s parents were denied, leading to this case.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver ruled that the school district was required to provide Drew only with an education that gave him a “benefit” that was “merely more than de minimis” – and that the school district had done that. The Supreme Court accepted Drew’s parents’ challenge to that decision and ultimately rejected it.

Dannel Malloy Links Medicaid, Mental Health and Employment for People with Disabilities

Gov. Dannel Malloy wearing a suit seated behind a large wooden desk with an American flag in the background
Gov. Dannel Malloy

Washington, March 1 – Employment opportunities for people with disabilities are critically linked to other important issues such as Medicaid and mental health support. per Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut.

Malloy said his state his ‘”working hard… to make sure we are expanding opportunities for people with disabilities and differences.”

Addressing a press conference hosted by the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) Saturday, on the sidelines of the National Governors Association Winter Meeting, the Democratic governor also talked about the importance “of taking care of people in other ways, including healthcare.”

Malloy pointed to fellow Governors John Hickenlooper (D-CO), David Ige (D-HI), Jay Inslee (D-WA), Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) and Tom Wolf (D-PA) to say that “every state…that has been able to expand Medicaid has expanded treatment for mental illness in their state.”

He spoke with pride about Connecticut being ranked as the number one state in the country on mental health care. That ranking, published by the mental health advocacy group Mental Health Alliance, is based on a variety of factors including survey data and access to coverage.

Malloy tied the issue of Medicaid coverage with employability for people with disabilities in Connecticut.

“When people get treatment for their medical conditions or their mental conditions, they are employable,” he said. “That is what our goal needs to be.”

Malloy is the current chair of the DGA and is responsible for leading his party’s efforts to win gubernatorial elections across the country. He wasted no time in talking about a “lack of calculation on how much money spent on health care is actually saving” taxpayers in terms of proposed repeals of the Affordable Care Act. He accused Republican leaders of “dissembling a program and just shifting the cost to the states.” In his view, “programs that we have built to help the disabled get employed…will be wiped out.”

Despite Malloy’s statements at the DGA and his personal experiences with dyslexia, the reality facing Connecticut’s disability community is much more complex. According to calculations made based on data from the 2016 Disability Statistics Compendium, 9,274 people with disabilities left Connecticut’s workforce – the second worst job loss of any state. Between 2014 and 2015, Connecticut’s employment rate for people with disabilities dropped from 40.2 percent to only 35.2 percent. That means the Constitution State dropped in the state rankings to the 26th spot. Out of 190,691 working age people with disabilities in Connecticut, only 67,517 are employed.

The RespectAbility Report reached out to several disability leaders in Connecticut to comment on the Governor’s remarks. Kathleen Flaherty is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, a statewide nonprofit agency that provides legal representation to low-income individuals living with mental health conditions.

Flaherty expressed her organization’s gratitude for the state’s “legislative leadership for recognizing that we have to continue to invest in services and supports that enable people with mental health conditions and other disabilities to thrive in our communities.”

However, she went on to express deep concerns with some of the critical budgetary choices being made in Hartford. “On-going state budget concerns have resulted in cuts to…vital programs” that serve Connecticut’s most vulnerable residents, she said.

Flaherty also emphasized that “smart investments of state resources ultimately save the state money” and she expressed her hope to find together “a solution that works for all of Connecticut’s citizens.”

Sandy Inzinga of the Connecticut Association of the Deaf (CAD) was direct in her criticism of Malloy’s choices and their disproportionate impact on the Deaf community.

“We’re kind of going backwards,” Inzinga said. “They have deleted funding for lots of different programs.”

Inzinga point out that the State of the State address had been rendered inaccessible to Connecticut’s Deaf community by the lack of ASL Interpreter services.

As previously reported by The RespectAbility Report, in June 2016, 25 people were laid off from the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Interpreting Unit within Connecticut’s Department of Rehabilitation Services. The cuts came as part of a restructuring effort to reduce debt in the state budget. Services are no longer be provided by the state and are instead be issued through part-time employees or private providers. The state made this move in anticipation of saving approximately $30 per hour per interpreter. These measures left many people who are deaf and hard of hearing without a voice. Malloy implemented the budget cuts without a transition plan for those who receive ASL services as well as for the interpreters. This has since impacted daily living situations in schools, courts, hospitals and countless other situations.

Gov. Malloy speaking at DNC, standing behind podium, wearing black suit, white shirt and blue tie
Gov. Dannell Malloy

Malloy spoke last year at the Democratic National Convention about his personal experiences with disabilities and has been open about his dyslexia. He talked about how, through accommodations, he became “the first learning-impaired person to take the essay portion of the bar exam orally.”

Critics question why this personal experience is not necessarily reflected by policy choices to better support Connecticut’s disability community.

Inzinga pointed out the fact that the governor is “taking [away] our accommodations, our interpreters. I don’t understand that, even though he has…personally experienced the need for accommodations.”