Washington, DC – Recently, Judge Thomas Moukawsher of the Connecticut State Superior Court released a sweeping ruling on school funding that could have dire, negative consequences on students with disabilities, particularly students with intellectual and/or developmental as well as behavioral and emotional disabilities.
The case, Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell, was initiated in 2005 and challenged the state constitutionality of Connecticut’s pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade education finance system, claiming that the state was inadequately funding the poorest and lowest- performing districts. Judge Moukawsher held that “Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty” to give all children an adequate education and ordered the state to make far-reaching changes regarding how schools are financed, which students are eligible to graduate from high school, and how teachers are paid and evaluated, among others. The judge noted that the state “has left rich school districts to flourish and poor school districts to flounder,” thereby failing to provide children with a “fair opportunity for an elementary and secondary school education.” Judge Moukawsher did not mandate any particular policies for the state to adopt in light of the ruling – rather, he ordered the attorney general’s office to submit plans within 180 days to solve the problems outlined in the decision.
While this decision may appear to assist vulnerable students in Connecticut, Judge Moukawsher also noted within the decision that children with certain “profound” disabilities be denied a public education, erroneously stating that: “The call is not about whether certain profoundly disabled children are entitled to a ‘free appropriate public education.’ It is about whether schools can decide in an education plan for a covered child that the child has a minimal or no chance for education, and therefore the school should not make expensive, extensive, and ultimately pro-forma efforts…no case holds otherwise, and this means that extensive services are not always required.” The state has appealed the ruling to the Connecticut Supreme Court.
The Arc, a leading national disability organization, and The Arc of Connecticut, released the following statement on the ruling:
“While the disability community has won many important, hard fought battles when it comes to kids with disabilities accessing a free and appropriate public education, this ruling demonstrates we have a long way to go to ensure discrimination in our education system is a distant memory.
“The language of this ruling turns back the clocks on how society places value in the lives of people with disabilities. It ignores all the examples of people with disabilities being told they can’t do this, or won’t be able to do that, who proved the experts wrong. If we followed this narrow view and didn’t invest in the education of all kids, we would be missing out on the contributions every single person can make in their community. I’m glad the state is appealing this ruling, and The Arc of Connecticut will be a leader in making sure that all kids with disabilities are treated fairly under the law,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.
“This ruling is deeply disturbing on two levels,” said Leslie Simoes, the executive director of The Arc of Connecticut. “First, the court ignored the law. Though it was common to deny an education to children with disabilities in the past, federal law has entitled all children with disabilities- not just some children- to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for more than 40 years. Attempting to differentiate children deserving of an education by the severity of their disability would be both arbitrary and lead to creating perverse incentives for states.
“Second, I categorically reject the court’s premise that the only way one group of struggling students can progress is to take services away from others who face enormous challenges. Our aim must be to move forward together, not to benefit some by leaving others behind. That is not only illegal, it denies those children their basic human right to live as full members of their community.”
The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with IDD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.