NSBA and Eight State School Board Associations Call Upon the Ninth Circuit to Affirm IDEA’s Educational Purpose

October 15, 2014

Alexandria, Va. (Oct. 15, 2014) — The National School Boards Association (NSBA), joined by eight state school boards associations, today filed a “friend of the court” (amicus) brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of D.A. v. Meridian Joint Sch. Dist. No. 2. At issue in this case is whether a high-functioning autistic student with social, behavioral and self-sufficiency needs is entitled to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) services when the disability does not adversely affect his educational performance. 

The brief argues that a student is not eligible to receive special education or related services based solely on an autism diagnosis. A 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Bd. of Educ. v. Rowley, characterizes the primary intent of IDEA as serving students who need special education in order to “open the door of public education.” The student in this case, while identified with autism, was deemed ineligible for IDEA services because he successfully met all requirements to graduate from high school.

“Grades and academic performance are important guiding principles in determining IDEA eligibility,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “When we misclassify children, we needlessly label them and risk taking valuable resources away from children who truly need specialized services.”

In their brief, NSBA and its co-signing state school boards associations urge the Ninth Circuit to limit eligibility for special education and related services only to students who have a disability that adversely affects their educational performance in a manner that requires specialized instruction and related services to benefit from public education.
“The school district’s responsibility under the IDEA is not to cure or remediate all effects of a child’s disability,” said NSBA Associate Executive Director and General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. “Given that the student in this case is academically successful, it may be more appropriate to address the effects of Autism Spectrum Disorder through accommodations provided under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 than through special education and related services under the IDEA.”

While IDEA is meant to ensure that students with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education, it is not intended as an unrestricted mandate for schools to cure or remediate all effects of a child’s disability. That is, nonacademic struggles alone do not qualify students for special education and related services under IDEA. The purpose and intent of IDEA is to provide students with a “basic floor of opportunity.”
In addition to NSBA, eight state school board associations filed the joint brief. Co-signatories include the Association of Alaska School Boards, Arizona School Boards Association, California School Boards Association, Idaho School Boards Association, Montana School Boards Association, Nevada Association of School Boards, Oregon School Boards Association, and the Washington State School Directors’ Association.

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The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is the leading advocate for public education and supports equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership. NSBA represents state school boards associations and their more than 90,000 local school board members throughout the U.S. Learn more at: 

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