SCOTUS ruling sends excitement to local parents of special needs children

SCOTUS ruling sends excitement to local parents of special needs children

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Students with disabilities could soon see some changes in their education for the better.

A unanimous Supreme Court ruling Wednesday will set higher standards in the school system for these students.

"I'm shocked and elated by this ruling," said Gillian Kohn, of West Ashley. "Our children should be pushed and encouraged to strive for the maximum versus the minimum."

Right now the standard for students with disabilities is to achieve just more than the minimum, or "merely more than de minimis".

SCOTUS' ruling now changes the standard to "appropriately ambitious" in light of the circumstances, and that "every child should have the chance to meeting challenging objectives."

"We think it's going to bring a lot of awareness for our students," said PACE Charter School Principal Elaine Fort. "There's only so much out there, so many places and advocates for kids with disabilities."

"It also gives us parents a lot more backbone and more legitimacy in fighting things we think are unfair or that aren't appropriate for our child," Kohn said.

Kohn said her 7-year-old son has been through several challenges in the public-school system since his autism diagnosis.

"I felt at that time a teacher that he had really dropped the ball on him, and not really pushing him outside of his comfort level, which he was totally capable of being pushed." she said.

Data from the State Department of Education shows 92,344 students with disabilities enrolled in public schools.

Lowcountry School Districts provided these numbers for Individualized Education Program (IEP) students:

Berkeley County School District: 4,179

Charleston County School District: 4,799

Dorchester District 2: Approximately 3,000

Requests for Colleton County School District, Dorchester District 4, Georgetown County School District, and Williamsburg County School District were not immediately returned.

"I only see the numbers increasing rapidly," Kohn said. "For me, if we're behind the bar in regards to educating our teachers and saying our child must stay in this certain classroom... I think that will come back to bite us."

Under the new standard, Kohn would like to see Medicaid and the public-school system come together and offer luxuries like therapists inside the classroom. PACE Charter School has that opportunity.

"It makes all the difference in the world for these students," Fort said. "They're helping the teachers get to those educational materials and skills they deserve to have access to."

PACE (Pattison's Academy) is a school geared towards students with multiple disabilities.

"Our teachers and teacher's assistants are taught to utilize all of the things that the therapists know," Fort said. "I think the constant collaboration is what makes all the difference for these kids."

"I'd like to be able to see them do that at school so that when they do come home, they get to be children," Kohn said. "They get to experience the world in a playful way and have play dates and things like that."

Kohn said her son goes to therapy several times a week after school to help with his disability.

"It's pretty demanding," she said.

Kohn added over the years she has become more at ease with her son's progress in the public-school system, but there were times when things were rough.

"When you have to fight day to day to day, just to have the simple basics met, it's very challenging and frustrating for the dynamic of any family," she said.

She recalls an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting with school officials which raised numerous concerns about her son.

The IEP is a written document developed for each public-school child who is eligible for special education. It falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), which requires certain information to be included in the IEP, but doesn't specify how the IEP should look, because states and local school systems may include additional information.

"I was disappointed when there was mentioned of my son not completing high school, that he would get a certificate," Kohn said. "I think the more specific you can be with a child… really all children, the more likely they'll develop and really blossom and do great things. I want to set my child up for huge success."

"I think you have to take a step back and ask what is best for these kids," Fort said. "Where are we going to get them to? I think the models we're using [at PACE] are working, and so those are the areas that can get the funding."

A spokesman for the SC Department of Education said leaders are still figuring out what, if any, kind of implications the SCOTUS' ruling could have in the state.

The Berkeley County School District provided the following statement:

"Berkeley County School District has always been committed to ensuring that our students with disabilities are making meaningful gains through specially designed instruction to meet a child's unique needs through an individualized education program. The court's decision is aligned with the district's vision to empower all students for success."

Other Lowcountry school district either declined to comment since the ruling is still brand new, or messages were not immediately returned.

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