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Supreme Court rules schools must provide special education students a chance to make meaningful progress

applied behavior analysis meaningful progress for special ed students schools must provide meaningful progress scotus rules on meaningful progress for special ed students supreme court rules meaningful progress Mar 26, 2017

The Supreme Court of the United States heard a case from Denver, Colorado Federal Court about an autistic child and his family defending accountable progress. The Court found in an 8 - 0 decision that the family has a right to expect more than just de mini is (or minimum) progress. 

What that UNANYMOUS decision means for parents and districts is either great or horrid depending on your perspective. To frame the issue in what is likely an overly simplistic reduction of logic the case came down to whether a parent of a child with a disability had a right to expect more than what the Court called "minimum" education.

I may be one of perhaps a half dozen folk in the USA to weigh in on this from a multiple perspectives. First and most importantly I did battle with our local school district here in NJ on behalf of my son for many years; on this exact same issue. At the time, I was also a permanently licensed school principal in NY State and by the middle of the battle for our son's future became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). Later, as the smoke was clearing from his high school education, I taught at a major university  in NJ as a professor on the topic of school psychology in the area of behavior modification. So I've seen a few sides of this issue though I've always battled on the child advocate side. 

During the pasts 25 years, I watched with sadness as business executives took control over school and county districts across the northeast. The strategy created by heartless bureaucrats forced the best and the brightest educators to take early retirement or seek employment elsewhere. I've watched as great child advocates in the public school system were crushed both professionally and personally after seeking to do the right thing for a child and their parents.The decision by the Supreme Court, sends a very clear signal - those days of giving parents the 'mushroom treatment' when they are advocating for their kids, is over. Mushroom treatment referring to keeping someone in the dark and feeding them manure.

What the unanimous decision says is essentially, that each child has an individual right to obtain an education that is both appropriate and that aligns with their capacity for educational growth. Though the court stopped short of defining what that means, I am certain it means "measured progress" and in that regard the gold standard is and has been for 50+ years, Applied Behavior Analysis. So, as we enter the thick of IEP season across the USA, I encourage school administrators to consider doing the right thing for the right reason. Focus on the needs of the child in front of you and not on the budget numbers that your business administrator is worried about.

As for parents if you are getting the mushroom treatment when you walk into that IEP meeting, find out who the lawyer is in your district that makes the Child Study Team a bit sick to their stomach when they hear his or her name. Then make a call to advocate for your child. The balance of justice in your child's education just tipped heavily in your favor.