Friday, June 26, 2009

Supreme Court victory for parents of disabled students

One way out of sink public schools: Justices rule that parents who remove a disabled child from public school can be reimbursed for private instruction. The court says a 'free, appropriate' education is a public duty. That could just set a very useful precedent for ANY kid in a sink school

The Supreme Court strengthened the rights of parents of children with disabilities on Monday and dealt a potentially costly setback to cash-strapped public school districts across the nation. Ruling in the case of a high school boy from Oregon, the court held that his parents may obtain a full reimbursement for the cost of sending him to a private school because the public school system failed to provide the special education he needed.

The parents' "unilateral" decision to take their child out of the public system does not shield public officials from paying the cost, the court said by a 6-3 vote.

The ruling in Forest Grove School District vs. T.A. does not mean parents can turn their backs on a public school program and automatically require public officials to pay them for the cost of private schooling. The parents' right to a reimbursement is triggered only when a judge finds that public officials failed in their duty to provide a "free, appropriate" education for a child with a mental or physical disability.

In the Oregon case, the boy was tested by a school psychologist, but officials concluded he did not have a learning disability and was not entitled to special education. Later, his parents were told by outside experts their son had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and they enrolled him in a private residential school that charged $5,200 a month.

They eventually sought a reimbursement for $65,000, and they won before an administrative law judge, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco and now the Supreme Court.

The National School Boards Assn. and other education groups had urged the high court to deny the right to a reimbursement to parents who acted on their own and enrolled a child in a private school. The justices refused to do so because, in this case at least, the fault appeared to lie with the school district. "We hope this will prove to be limited. Most parents do try to work with the school district," said Naomi Gittins, a lawyer for the school boards group.

School lawyers said the ruling did not focus on the more common situation in which parents and school officials disagree on the proper program for a child with a disability. In those situations, the law calls for a series of appeals so the two sides can resolve their differences, or a judge can decide which option is better.

In the Oregon case, by contrast, the parents did not go into the appeals process until after their child had been turned down for special education and he was enrolled in the private program. "All this decision establishes is that if the school district falls down on the job, the parents are not precluded from seeking a reimbursement," said Terri Keville, a lawyer for the Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles.

Monday's ruling follows a decade of heated disputes over the high cost of private schooling for special education and claims from parents who wanted to be reimbursed. Congress in 1997 limited reimbursements for parents who moved their child to a private school without notifying public officials. But the high court said that provision did not apply to cases in which public officials refused to offer any special education to a child who needed it.

Justice John Paul Stevens said the court has consistently held that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires public officials to provide special education to all children who need it. "We conclude that IDEA authorizes reimbursement for the cost of private special-education services when a school district fails to provide a free, appropriate public education," he wrote in the opinion, "regardless of whether the child previously received special education or related services through the public school."

The court's vote did not follow the usual liberal-versus-conservative pattern. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr. formed the majority.

The dissenters -- David H. Souter, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas -- worried about the costs of special education, which can amount to "as much as 20% of public school's general operating budgets," Souter wrote.


Britain: Bringing back the grammar school is the only way to give poor children a chance. And I should know!


(A British Grammar school is a government-funded High school which can only be entered by passing an academic aptitude test called the "11 plus" at a high level. It gave a near equivalent of a private school education to those most likely to benefit from that. Its "inequality" was however deeply offensive to envy-riddled Leftists, who would rather see everyone fail rather than some do well)

Two old school friends and I are planning a very special party. It's a school reunion for the class of 1956 - 110 people selected to study at Kingsbury County Grammar School in North-West London more than half a century ago. We survived the trauma of the 11-plus examination to win our prized grammar school places and on that first, windy September morning, we stood in the playground, knowing only a few of the others who'd come with us from primary schools.

Looking back at those slightly bewildered children waiting to be allocated to their classrooms, there could be no finer example to prove Tory maverick David Davis's theory of how grammar schools 'rescued a generation of underprivileged children' than to look at what happened to us, the class of '56. We were the pre-baby boomer generation, from diverse backgrounds, born to parents who were fighting to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of war. Some of us knew real poverty. Real deprivation.

There were those living in pre-fabs intended to last five years but which lasted 20. There were those whose homes were rented flats in rundown properties, managed by unscrupulous landlords. My own parents had both left school at 14: my father to become a policeman during the war, later joining his brother's dressmaking firm; my mother to find work as a shop assistant before raising a family and, alas, becoming crippled by arthritis.

Yet, as children, my school friends and I were blissfully unaware of 'class differences'. And the main reason for that was that we were all, in one sense, equal. We had been given the same educational opportunity by dint of our own academic achievement, rather than as a result of our parents' pockets. The local authority's offer of places at our grammar school enabled us to receive a first-class education on a par with the finest that private and public schools could offer. Of course, we didn't know that then.

Nor did we realise what that privileged education would mean for our futures. How it would lift us beyond a 'class war'. How it would enable us to reach above expectations of manual or blue-collar jobs - working in factories, offices or on a shop floor. How far it would take us, thanks to our own efforts and that of our dedicated teachers.

Yet now these beacons of educational excellence have been dimmed - or extinguished for ever. Only 164 grammars remain today - and these are constantly under threat as the Government seeks to impose its 'one size fits all' educational policy across the board. Nor does the Tory leadership offer much hope. David Cameron remains unwilling to stand up for any form of selective entry school, fearful of being branded an elitist or highlighting his own educational privilege.

No matter that as David Davis (himself a grammar school boy) pointed out: 'However you measure it, selective systems deliver the best results for the whole community.' No matter that grammars were - and are - the single most effective way of encouraging aspiration, endeavour and social mobility. Better, it seems, to deny these simple truths than to upset the educational establishment.

Yes, the same educational establishment which has betrayed generations of children through its hatred of grammars, and which remains in utter ignorance of the travesty it has wrought. You'll know the arguments by now - that grammars were unfair to children who were 'stuck' with lousy prospects if they went to the secondary moderns or technical colleges.

Even today, with falsified exam grades unable to disguise the true scale of Britain's educational decline, they fail to see how their determination to impose the comprehensive system has dumbed down all schools rather than encouraging successful ones to prosper.

To be sure, we in the Kingsbury class of '56 were envied by those who went to the nearby secondary moderns. But they were by no means 'trapped' by their so-called 'failure' to pass the 11-plus, the exam so hated by the reformist zealots. They had another chance to move upwards and over to the grammar school for A-levels and sixth form, if they worked hard to pass their O-levels.

The fact is, all the children in our part of town learned important lessons from the existence of our grammar school - and not all of them academic. We learned that if you worked hard and applied yourself, anything was possible. For some, like me, that transformation started with the first day at Kingsbury. During our first school assembly (we had them every morning) and for the next seven years, we stood in the oak-panelled school hall and were invited to look up at the wooden scholarship boards bearing witness to the academic successes of those who'd gone before us.

Our headmaster, Mr Jones, resplendent in his graduation gown and mortar board, told us then, and many times afterwards, just how privileged we were to be here, in this august institution - and we were. All our teachers taught by example - not only when it came to the strict dress code. We were taught, through mutual respect, that concentration paid dividends; that if we set our sights high enough, we could reach the sky. It was a matter of reaching for the highest denominator, not sinking to the lowest.

Of course, there were those who mucked around, as children do. We weren't, by any means, angels or academics. We got into scrapes - and paid the price. Attainment wasn't always instant, either. But we learned more than academic excellence. We learned how to hold our heads high, whether we met commoners or kings. It's a lesson that we carried with us into our adult lives.

There was a girl, whom I will call Barbara, who lived in a dilapidated rented house near the school. She was the youngest of three girls and the first in her family's history to pass the 11-plus. Her father spent years out of work, caring for her mother, who had tuberculosis. Her school uniform was second hand. There was no privacy in their house where she could do homework. She shared her bedroom. The dining table was generally filled with rubbish.

Yet grammar school offered her dreams that her parents' purse quite simply couldn't meet. In her 30s, she met a famous American author, married him and went to live in the U.S., where she will attest that, thanks entirely to her grammar school education, she attained a degree. She is now a curator at a museum of art in Atlanta, Georgia, a job she adores.

Then there was Alan, whose father was a joiner, who went to Australia after gaining his A-levels. He is a highly successful businessman with homes in Melbourne, France and the Isle of Wight. As our reunion approaches, many more such success stories have come to light. Among our number are doctors, teachers, lawyers, chemists, academics, singers (and, yes, a few rogues too).

As we all exchanged emails, someone wrote: 'There must have been something very special about the Year of '56. We became members of a unique club by dint of the whims of the 11-plus and a local authority.'

In truth, we weren't that unique. We were ordinary children, with a modicum of academic ability, who'd been encouraged to make the most of our lives through education. If that's not the best way to bring about social progress, I don't know what is. Grammar school raised us, nurtured us and gave us an opportunity in a hard world. I only hope David Davis will succeed in his campaign to bring back grammars and thus offer my own grandchildren that same chance to shine.


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