Education/Rights – Supreme Court Unanimously Rules in Favor of Student in Disability Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in the case of Ehlena Fry, a student with cerebral palsy, who sought to use a service dog in school for tasks such as “retrieving dropped items, helping her balance when she uses her walker, opening and closing doors, turning on and off lights, and helping her take off her coat, [and] helping her transfer to and from the toilet.” The school refused to allow the service dog, arguing that a human aide was sufficient. Her parents sued the school district for violating her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. A federal district court had dismissed the case on the basis that the parents must exhaust the administrative procedures under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) before seeking relief under the ADA and Section 504 and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. The Supreme Court, in an 8-0 decision in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, ruled that a student does not need to exhaust the IDEA’s administrative process if the claim is not is not related to the adequacy of his/her education. Read The Arc’s statement on the ruling here.

Education – House Holds Hearing on Charter Schools and Voucher Programs

On February 2, the House Education and Workforce Committee’s Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee held a hearing examining charter schools and voucher programs throughout the country. Witnesses included Michael L. William, former Texas Commissioner of Education; Almo J. Carter, a parent of a child with a disability from Washington, D.C.; Kevin Kubacki, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Charter Network in Indianapolis, IN; and Nina Cherry, a parent from Dover, FL. Visit the Committee web site for more information, including testimony and archived video.

Education – DeVos Issues Letter on ESSA implementation

On February 10, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a letter to chief state school officers intended to provide clarity on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This letter follows the announced delayby the Department of Education of the effective date of regulations concerning accountability and State plans until March 21, 2017, as the Administration reviews recently issued regulations. The Congressional Review Act allows Congress 60 legislative days to disapprove of certain regulations recently issued by federal agencies. On Feb 7, the House passed H.J. Res. 57to overturn the regulation on accountability and state plans that went into effect on Jan 30, 2017. The Senate vote on the measure has not yet been announced.

The February 10 letter emphasizes that states should continue to move forward and that the Department will work to ensure that states’ education leaders have the state and local flexibility that Congress intended. States should continue to follow the timeline for developing and submitting their plans for review and approval, building on the work they have already completed. The Department will still accept consolidated State plans on April 3 or September 18, 2017. Further guidance will be issued on the state plan requirements by March 13, 2017. The Arc supports strong accountability regulations in order to provide transparency in the performance of all students, including those with disabilities.

Education – Full Senate Vote on Education Secretary to be Held as Soon as This Afternoon

The full Senate resumes consideration of Betsy Devos to lead the Department of Education today, with the vote as soon as this afternoon. This follows last week’s party line vote of 12-11 by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to advance the nomination. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have publicly stated their intent to vote no on the final confirmation vote. Because this will result in a 50-50 tie vote if all other Senators vote along party lines, Vice President Mike Pence is expected to preside so that he can break the tie. The Department of Education is responsible for implementation of federal education laws including Every Student Succeeds Act, the Higher Education Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The event will be livestreamed here.

Education – Education Department Releases New Resources for Stakeholders

On January 18, The U.S. Department of Education released new resources for school officials, school staff, parents, and other stakeholder. These include atoolkit on social-emotional learning and School Climate Improvement Resource Package. Additionally, the department released new fact sheets on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act: one on religious discrimination in general and another on discrimination against Jewish students.

Education – Department of Education Releases ESSA Resources on Accountability and English Language Learners

The U.S. Department of Education released additional resources on January 19 to support States in transitioning to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The Frequently Asked Questions on Accountability under Title I, Part A of law provides an overview of many of the key provisions for accountability and school improvement and includes descriptions of how States and local education agencies may meet these requirements, provides examples, and links to other related non-regulatory guidance. The resource guide on accountability for English learners describes accountability provisions for English learners in greater detail, including how they compare to previous authorizations of the law.

Education – Senate to Hold Confirmation Hearing for Secretary of Education Nominee

The January 11 hearing on the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education was postponed and will now be held on January 17. The Department of Education is responsible for implementation of federal education laws including Every Student Succeeds Act, the Higher Education Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Visit the Committeeweb site for more information or to access live video the day of the hearing.

Education – U.S Department of Education Releases ESSA Guidance

On January 10, 2017, the U.S. Department of Education released a series of resources to support States in their transition to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The guidance documents are intended to provide additional clarity on the role of States, districts, and schools under the ESSA to ensure that all students receive a high-quality education and that they graduate from high school prepared for success in college and careers.

  • The Consolidated State Plan guidance is intended to help States plan to meet requirements regarding improved student academic achievement and increased quality of instruction.
  • The State and Local Report Cards guidance is intended to help implement requirements regarding increasing transparency and informing students, parents, and educators on the success of students and schools.
  • The High School Graduation Rate guidance is intended to help calculate a four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, disaggregated by subgroups (including students with disabilities).

Education – Supreme Court Hears IDEA Case

On January 11, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of a Colorado student with autism, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District.Endrew’s parents withdrew their son (known as Drew) from public school and enrolled him in a private school after his individualized education program (IEP) proposed goals for fifth grade that closely resembled goals for earlier years. This case addressed the following question: what level of educational benefit must school districts confer on children with disabilities to provide them with the free appropriate public education guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? The Arc joined other disability advocates in filing an amicus brief in November that argues that Congress’s move to standards based education, combined with the specific language of the amendments to the IDEA, make the Tenth Circuit’s merely-more-than-de-minimis standard untenable. The brief argued that these amendments make clear that a school district’s educational interventions must provide a child with a disability an equal opportunity to meet the standards the district applies to all children and that any deviation from that universal standard must be tied to the unique needs of the child. For more information about the oral argument, see the argument analysis from SCOTUSblog. A decision is expected this summer.