Academic journal article Vanderbilt Law Review

A Search for the Best IDEA: Balancing the Conflicting Provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Academic journal article Vanderbilt Law Review

A Search for the Best IDEA: Balancing the Conflicting Provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Article excerpt


One issue that is consistently at the forefront of political debate in America is the educational system.1 The debate over education involves funding, accountability, and curriculum issues, among others. IMAGE FORMULA4

One education issue that does not receive as much attention as some of the more politically charged issues is special education.

The goal of the American public school system is to educate all children, but how should that goal be implemented with regard to learning-disabled children? How does the educational system meet the individualized needs of disabled students while ensuring that these students are not isolated from the rest of the student body? Congress attempted to address these problems with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA" of "the Act").2 The Act sought to promote mainstreaming3 by promising augmented education funding to states that increased mainstreaming in their school systems.4

Over the years the court system has had the unenviable task of interpreting Congress' intent in enacting the IDEA. This task is made more difficult because the Act itself has conflicting mandates5 and because the Supreme Court has provided little guidance.6 As discussed below,7 the courts' main problem has been trying to reconcile the Act's mandate that all students receive an individualized and appropriate education$ with its emphasis on mainstreaming those students with special needs to the greatest extent possible.9

Thus far, the task of interpreting the Act and reconciling its conflicting mandates has fallen to the courts of appeals. The courts that have attempted to reconcile the Act's conflicting mandates have utilized at least four different methodological approaches,10 leaving IMAGE FORMULA6

the status of the law This Note will attempt to evaluate the different tests that circuit courts have devised by focusing on how well they each reflect the concerns of the parties affected by the mainstreaming decisionmaking process. Part II describes the background and origins of the problem beginning with the constitutional principles underlying the IDEA. This part will then trace the development of the issue through the passage of the IDEA. In Part III, this Note examines the scant Supreme Court jurisprudence dealing with the Act. Part III then explores the various methods that the circuit courts have employed while attempting to balance the conflicting provisions of the IDEA as well as the implications that result from each of these approaches. In Part IV, this Note analyzes the various approaches by examining the interests reflected in each. The discussion will focus on the interests of school systems, classroom teachers, non-learning-disabled students, the court system, and finally, disabled students. While much has been written on mainstreaming and on courts' approaches to the topic, the practical effects of the different approaches on these groups have not always been addressed. This Note will attempt to shed more light on these practical issues. Finally, this Note will conclude with a call for the adoption of a four-factor balancing test proposed by the Ninth Circuit and recommend congressional clarification.

In order to place the various issues in context, this Note will use the case of Beth B. v. Van Clay12 to illustrate the challenges facing courts that are involved in the mainstreaming inquiry. The case concerns the plaintiff-student Beth B., a thirteen-year-old girl who suffers from a neurodevelopmental disorder called Rett syndrome.13 This disorder causes Beth to suffer from serious "disabilities to motor functioning, communication and cognition."14 Grounding discussion throughout this Note in the facts of the Beth B. case will clarify the issues involved and the options available to the courts. IMAGE FORMULA8

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