As the Chairman of the IEP Task Force in Delaware back in 2014, Delaware Attorney General (then Lieutenant Governor) Matt Denn stated in the first meeting that Delaware students with disabilities deserved more than what federal law under IDEA stated. He announced yesterday he will advocate for special needs children getting a top-notch education. Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme court decided to hear a special education case regarding what a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) really is. The is significant due to the fact that special education changed a lot when IDEA was reauthorized in 2004. This will be the first time the highest court in the land has tackled FAPE in a very long time.
Today, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear a case from the state of Colorado involving the level of educational services that must be provided to public school students with disabilities. The case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, is significant because it will be the first time in decades that the U.S. Supreme Court has addressed this issue, and different federal courts around the country have come to different conclusions on the question.
“This case may not have significant implications for Delaware public schoolchildren with disabilities,” Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn said. “Delaware state law was changed in 2010, in a bill I worked on as Lieutenant Governor with Representative Quinn Johnson and Senator David Sokola, to require that Delaware public schools provide services to Delaware students with disabilities that matches the highest level of services required by federal courts interpreting this issue. However, sometimes the language that the U.S. Supreme Court uses in issuing its decisions can be as important as the decisions themselves. For that reason, the Delaware Department of Justice will be seeking to advocate – potentially with other state Attorneys General — for the U.S. Supreme Court to find that the highest level of services for children with disabilities currently recognized by federal courts is the correct level for all of the nation’s children, and for the Supreme Court to provide specific guidance to the states as to how to implement its decision in order to ensure that children with disabilities have an opportunity to fulfill their potential.”
In regards to that bill from 2010, Denn said the following about the bill when it was introduced:
“It is completely unacceptable for us to tell the parents of most children that we want their kids to have the best public school education in America, while telling the parents of students with disabilities that their kids will receive the educational equivalent of a serviceable Chevrolet,” Lieutenant Governor Denn said. “We have a legal and a moral obligation to these children to provide them with a meaningful education, and this bill is a first step to making sure that happens.”
Denn has always been one of the strongest advocates in Delaware for students with disabilities. I am glad he is putting his support behind the parents in this potentially landmark Supreme Court case. With that being said, the very definition of special education will be redefined yet again if education reformers get their way with their dreams of “IEPs for ALL”. I pray, if that time does come, that Matt Denn will be at the front of the pack for students with disabilities, their parents, and disability advocates to make sure special needs students don’t get lost in the shuffle.
In the meantime, the Delaware Dept. of Education, under the direction of Governor Markell in epilogue language in the FY2015 budget, is still working on a Special Education Strategic Plan for the state, more than two years since it was created.