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What does a 'meaningful education' mean?

What Does Meaningful Education Mean?

Do children with special needs deserve a meaningful education? If you ask the parent of a special needs child, then the answer is yes. However, federal law says that it depends on where you live.

It sounds alarming, but that is technically the legal standard and it gets worse.

In the 1980s the United States Supreme Court decided that IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) guaranteed children with special needs access to a free and appropriate education. This meant that school districts did have the obligation to educate special needs children. However, the Court did not go into the actual standard of education required. Thus, the circuit courts have been left to decide and the results among the 12 circuit courts are staggering.

In California, a member of the Ninth Circuit, children with special needs deserve a "meaningful" educational benefit. However, the Tenth Circuit Court only requires "some" educational benefit. Which is it then? And what exactly constitutes "meaningful" versus "some?"

These definitions have been problematic and have resulted in constant legal battles with school districts across the country. On the one hand are parents advocating for the futures their children. These children have their entire lives to live and their parents want to give them the best tools with which to handle life and attain independence. Yet school districts are also in a predicament of limited funding and the impossible task of trying to meet the special needs of every special needs child.

But impossible does not mean that one does not or should not try to educate all children. Next year, the United States Supreme Court will review Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 (No. 15-827) in order to decide the standard of education that school districts are required to provide their special needs children.

The hope is that this case will require all school districts to provide a "meaningful" education and that the Supreme Court goes on to define the parameters of "meaningful." Perhaps this will force all schools to look outside of the box, invest in personnel, ensure proper training and create innovative programs for children with special needs.