The American University School of Law
By Elisa Hyman, Dean Hill Rivkin and Stephen A. Rosenbaum
Volume 20, Issue 1, Article 3, 2011
As a quintessential civil rights issue, the struggle for equal educational opportunity for students with disabilities whose families have few resources is waged daily from the parapets of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a complex entitlement statute.
Dissimilar to the progress made under the IDEA for their wealthier peers, low-income children are not reaping the educational benefits that effective advocacy has achieved for students with disabilities who can afford determined advocates, skilled counsel, and knowledgeable experts to navigate the highly technical mandates of the statute and corresponding regulations.
Among others, these benefits include identification and certification under the IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, development of an enforceable Individualized Education Program (IEP) with a continuum of services calibrated to the precise needs of each eligible child; rich compensatory services for the failure of school systems to comply with the requirements of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE); the provision of a focused private education, in a residential setting if appropriate; protections from school discipline, including continuing educational services following more than ten days of out-of-school suspension, and the formulation of a staged transition plan to ensure meaningful opportunities upon a student’s departure from the school system.
The data is mounting to support the thesis that students from families without resources are systematically deprived of educational outcomes that would allow them to pursue gainful employment or further educational opportunities. The links between poverty, race, and disability are “well-documented.”
Low-income students with disabilities are more frequently pushed out of public education through punitive discipline, sheer neglect, or other more subtle strategies. Low-income students of color with unidentified educational disabilities are disproportionately referred for prosecution in juvenile court.
If scrupulously observed by school systems, and rigorously enforced, the IDEA has the power to stem this phenomenon...
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