Individuals with Disabilities Education Law Report
Back to School on Civil Rights II. Grassroots Perspectives on Noncompliance and Federal Enforcement of IDEA
A. Obstacles Experienced by Students with Disabilities & Their Families Almost a quarter century following the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), students with disabilities and their families still commonly face obstacles to securing the free appropriate public education (FAPE) that the law promises. The impact of noncompliance with IDEA is difficult to overestimate. Every Parent Training and Information (PTI) center in the country hears daily about the toll taken on students whose educational and related services needs are not being met and on the parents who expend incredible amounts of energy advocating for basic access to educational programs for their children. Appendix B provides a general list of the obstacles faced by students with disabilities and their families that were intended to be addressed by IDEA. Problems in all of these areas persist today.
The experience of many parents gives the impression that compliance with the law is the exception rather than the rule. Parents frequently face repeated challenges year after year, sometimes throughout the entire elementary and secondary educational experience of the child. The stress of working with a recalcitrant school system that appears to not want to work with a parent to educate a disabled child can be tremendous. The recent controversy over the discipline provisions in IDEA has fueled special education cases related to suspension and expulsion of students.
The following situations are examples of what many students and families in this country experience when working with special education systems. These experiences demonstrate that even the most basic promises of the law are too often not being met.1. Noncompliance with Least Restrictive Environment In California, a first-grade student with significant mental impairments was placed in the regular classroom for the full day. The school district thought that the placement was wrong for the student and claimed that she was not receiving academic benefit from her placement. In addition, the district held that the girl's presence had a detrimental effect on her teacher and classmates. A hearing officer determined that the regular classroom was indeed the correct placement for the girl and outlined approp riate supports that had to be provided. The school district appealed the decision. Eventually the girl's family moved to a neighboring district and enrolled the child in a regular education class there, where she is doing well.
In another situation, in Indiana, a student who is blind sought to attend his local school. The school district required the child to travel 25 miles away from home to a residential school for the blind to receive the educational services he needed. A hearing officer determined that the child must be served in his home school, which is the least restrictive environment. The school district has appealed the ruling.
In New Jersey, a very bright elementary-age child with dyslexia was in a resource room several periods a day. In more than two years she had not shown progress in reading. Her parents sought training for the teachers on how to best instruct children with dyslexia in reading. The school system responded by seeking to place the child in a self-contained classroom. The school contended that it teaches all children to read by the same method. The parents prevailed in court and were awarded instructional compensation for the child over the summer.