"A Free & Appropriate Education": more than just sorting garbage?

1/3/2004
Public policy
David Lord
Director of Public Policy

Important Victory in Special Education Case

Envoy readers may remember that we reported last year that Vancouver special education students were being told to sort trash as their “Work Experience Program”.  The students were teased and harassed by their classmates. The Associated Press picked up on the story, and many were shocked by the reaction of the school district. The special education director was quoted saying “… if you look at the real world, what you have is individuals who would be doing these jobs.”

This story has a happy ending!  In this district, the federal special education requirement that all students receive a “free and appropriate education” no longer means picking through the trash. Last month, an administrative law judge found in favor of  parents challenging the school’s practice.

The court found the district’s response to the student’s special education needs seriously deficient in numerous critical areas. The parents were not provided with the opportunity to participate in the development of the student’s Individual Education Plan. The district didn’t provide the assistive technology needed by the student - an FM device to assist hearing – because one of the teachers said the device “hadn’t been helpful” for her daughter. The district ignored suggestions by the parents and the student regarding his interests, taking no action to follow up with transition services. 1800 hours of the student’s program in the eleventh grade was described as “passing time”.

“What’s compelling about this decision is that the judge found that the district denied the student a free and appropriate education for all four years of high school,” said David Girard, the WPAS attorney representing the parents.

“This means that the district will have to provide him with compensatory vocational education for an additional four years, subject to his parent’s approval, with the appropriate assessments and assistive technology."