Feds have concerns with judge’s special education ruling

Supertior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher

CTMirror.org File Photo

Supertior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher

The U.S. Department of Education wrote the state’s education commissioner this week to share concerns about a state judge’s order telling Connecticut lawmakers to reassess what level of services students with significant disabilities are entitled to.

After spending months hearing testimony about the quality of education being provided in the state’s most troubled schools, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher characterized special education spending as being “adrift.”

Moukawsher found fault with large sums going toward “those in special education who cannot receive any form of elementary or secondary education… School officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from an elementary or secondary education.”

The U.S. Department of Education took issue with his ruling, saying it was concerned with those portions that “suggest that a school district need not provide programming or services to all [special education]-eligible children in all areas of need.” Ruth E. Ryder, the acting director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs pointed to various federal court rulings requiring school districts to provide services for all the needs of disabled students, including academic, physical, emotional or social  needs, so that they have an opportunity to learn.

“Contrary to the lower court’s view, Connecticut and its school districts may not choose to provide special education and related services only for those students whom local educators believe may ostensibly benefit more from a traditional, elementary or secondary academic program,” Ryder wrote. “Rather, they have an obligation to provide special education and related services to all eligible children with disabilities, including children with more severe or significant disabilities.”

Federal law requires school districts to provide an “appropriate education” to disabled students – but what exactly that means is unclear. Federal courts are divided on the issue.  The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in January over what kind of services must be provided to a Colorado student with autism.

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