Ninth Circuit Issues Strong Defense of Inclusive Education

On December 20, 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision D.R. vs. Redondo Beach Unified School District which clarifies core questions around the right of students with significant support needs to be educated in general education classrooms. The decision makes clear that district members of IEP teams can no longer rely on a presumption that segregation will be beneficial for students and suggests that districts should provide actual evidence of how a student can supposedly benefit from time away from the general education classroom before they resort to a segregated special education placement. This will hopefully force district IEP teams to confront the overwhelming evidence that inclusion works for all students if they are provided with the supports they need to be successful within general education settings.

The decision decisively dismisses two frequent arguments that schools use to support segregated classrooms. First, it makes clear that whether or not a student with significant disability-related challenges is performing at grade-level academically is irrelevant to the assessment of whether he is receiving academic benefit from his placement in the regular classroom. Rather, the question of whether a student is making substantial progress toward meeting his individual academic goals is the core measure of progress. Second, the decision made clear that the fact that a student requires supplementary aides, supports, and services to access the general education classroom is irrelevant to the analysis of whether he can make academic progress in a general education setting. The need for individual supports, even extensive supports, is not a reason to exclude a student from a general education classroom.

The attorneys at Vanaman German believe that school districts’ continued practice of segregating students with disabilities from their peers flies in the face of both basic norms of equality and the overwhelming evidence that all students learn more when they are educated in general education classrooms with the individualized supports they need to be successful.

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