How much is enough?
Before 1975, children with disabilities could be excluded from a school because …, well actually just because the principal said no for whatever reason. And many principals did say no. In 1975 the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EHA)was signed by President Ford. From then until now, children with disabilities must be given a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). But how much is enough!
Gone are the days when parents were grateful their kids were in a school. Now parents are making demands that courts have found to be beyond the responsibility of the schools.
There was a family in Maine who insisted that the IEP(Individual Education Program) for their child did not include the specific reading program that the family believed would make the child a successful reader. The school district disagreed and did not want to include the reading program by name in the IEP. The court agreed with the school district and said that IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, successor to EHA) did not require that specific methods or instructional techniques be included. Professional educators get to make those calls.
A Jewish religiously observant family in Maryland turned down the IEP established by the school district because the IEP did not include religious instruction and instruction in Hebrew. The child has a severe intellectual disability so it is unclear if the child even has the potential to learn Hebrew, a language that requires learning a totally different alphabet as well as a different grammar and structure. The parents also wanted the public schools to provide instruction in Judaic studies and customs so that the child could participate in family religious observances. The parents asserted that the child was being denied FAPE without these provisions. The court denied the parents request noting that there is no requirement for religious instruction in IDEA. The school district has agreed to make reasonable accommodations for the family to provide this instruction.
In a recent Supreme Court decision, Endrew F. vs. Douglas County School District the Court said that IDEA does not provide any substantive IEP standard and that the maximization of a student’s potential was not required by the law.
So what do families want and how much is enough? Is any child guaranteed that his/her potential will be maximized by the school system? Nope, not plain kids and not kids with disabilities. Does the fact that a child has a disability negate the family’s responsibility for religious instruction? Evidently not, no matter how important religion is to the child's family. Who is running the educational program, the parents or the professionals? These are difficult questions and for the time being the various courts have answered them. But there is a larger question. When are families expecting more than they have the right to expect? And is there any limit on what is best for a child with a disability? How much is enough?