The Arc Responds to Connecticut Court Ruling on Education and Access for Children with Disabilities

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 (I/DD), 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 I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

The Arc Welcomes Long Overdue Initial Zika Prevention Funding Package

Washington, DC – After months of delay, late last night Congress finally approved and sent to President Obama’s desk a funding package for Zika prevention. Some women infected with Zika while pregnant give birth to babies with severely disabling brain injury, including microcephaly.  Many of The Arc’s more than 650 chapters provide supports and services to families and people with a range of disabilities, including significant disabilities. Since 2015, more than 23,000 cases of Zika have been confirmed in the U.S. and its territories, with over 2,000 of these among pregnant women.

“After months of inaction, we are relieved that Congress finally approved funding to address this public health threat. These resources will allow us to slow the spread of Zika until a treatment or vaccine can be developed.

Unfortunately, women will continue to have to wait for years to know the full range of developmental delays that their Zika infections have caused in their children.  Affected children and their families then will enter our nation’s woefully inadequate system for providing services and supports for the millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in communities across the country. The Arc continues to educate Members of Congress and the public about the importance of our lifeline programs, Medicaid and Social Security, for people with disabilities and their families,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

In February, the White House asked for $1.9 billion for Zika vaccine development, better testing, and mosquito reduction.  With no action taken by Congress, in April the White House transferred $589 million from money set aside to fight Ebola and other problems to work on Zika prevention efforts.  With that funding dwindling, Congress was at an impasse all summer and into September over the funding level and extraneous items some were attempting to include in the bill that Congress couldn’t agree on. The approved legislation includes $1.1 billion for this effort.

The Arc has long held a position on the prevention of intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), supporting our national efforts to continue to investigate the causes, reduce the incidence and limit the consequences of I/DD through education, clinical and applied research, advocacy, and appropriate supports. We firmly believe that prevention activities do not diminish the value of any individual, but rather strive to maximize independence and enhance quality of life for people with I/DD.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of more than 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

The Arc Responds to Florida Supreme Court’s Decision to Vacate Death Sentence for Freddie Lee Hall in Florida

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement following news that the Supreme Court of Florida reversed the circuit court’s order in the case Hall v. Florida, a death penalty case concerning the definition of intellectual disability (ID) that Florida uses in deciding whether an individual with that disability is protected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia. With this decision Freddie Lee Hall will be taken off death row and his sentence will be reduced to life in prison. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Atkins v. Virginia case that executing inmates with ID is unconstitutional as it violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“Today the Supreme Court of Florida showed its commitment to ensuring justice for individuals with intellectual disability. This decision is an affirmation of years of legal advocacy on behalf of Mr. Hall.

“With the original sentencing in Hall’s case Florida was violating the Supreme Court’s Atkins v. Virginia ruling and we are pleased to see justice finally being served. Our hope is that Florida’s decision will serve as guidepost to other states that have similar cases involving defendants with intellectual disability. While we are pleased with Florida’s decision, we also think of other individuals who were unjustly denied Atkins protections and sentenced to death, individuals like Warren Hill, executed in Georgia last year, despite the protections of the Atkins decision.

“The Arc remains committed to fighting for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and we will continue our legal advocacy work to make sure that the Supreme Court ruling on this issue is followed in jurisdictions across the country,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc has participated in a number of cases on this issue before the Supreme Court including Atkins v. Virginia. The Arc’s amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief was cited by the Justices in support of its ruling that the Constitution protects all defendants with ID. On December 23, 2013, The Arc submitted an amicus brief for the Hall v. Florida case.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, Autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, Cerebral Palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of nearly 700 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.

Voting Independently With A Disability Is Possible

When I became old enough to vote, I didn’t think I could because I can’t write due to having cerebral palsy (CP). A few years later, I was in an independent living program which taught me many skills that I needed to know in order to live on my own, and one thing I learned is that I had the right to ask a polling person to assist me in filling out my voting ballot. This helped reduce my fears around voting. So, when the next election came around, my boyfriend– Juan, who also lives with CP and needed help writing– and I decided to go vote for the first time. It took us two and a half hours because there was a long line, then when we finally made it to the front of the line, we had to wait for one polling assistants to become free to help us (one at a time). We both were dissatisfied with the process because we didn’t view it as very fair. We felt uncomfortable because we weren’t taken to a private area, so anyone could have overheard our vote. Plus, we were also discouraged when we realized that even if we were taken to a private area, our vote would never be truly private because the person who assisted us would know how we voted. This discouraged us from voting again for several years.

Then, in 2010, I got a job working with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. One of the first projects they had me working on was about voting and trying to get more people with disabilities to get out and exercise their right to vote. While working on the project, I learned about a pair of jelly switches– big round buttons that could be plugged into accessible voting machines to help with the process of voting. These buttons are for people with disabilities who don’t possess good dexterity and fine motor control. These buttons can be placed anywhere needed for them to be accessible. One button allows the voter to move throughout the ballot, while the other was to make selections. I discovered these were perfect for me because I could operate them with my feet. I was excited to be able to cast my ballot by myself and in private!

The next time elections rolled around, there were accessible machines at almost every polling place and I was anxious to put what I had learned into practice. So I went into my polling place and told them I wanted to use the jelly buttons to cast my own ballot. They got the polling person who had been trained on the adaptive equipment. She hooked up the buttons, then we figured out that the best place for me to put them was on the foot pedals of my wheelchair. Then, I spent the next 20-30 minutes casting my own private ballot. When I finished, they were as excited for me as I was for myself. As I walked out of the building with my ‘I Voted’ sticker on me, I had tears in my eyes– as I do right now– because it meant that much to me.


Susie Angel has an Associate’s Degree in Communications from Austin Community College and a Bachelor’s in Magazine Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She has worked as a secretary/office manager for several years and has experience as a job developer/ job coach for people with disabilities. Susie joined Coalition of Texans with Disabilities (CTD) as a VISTA in 2010 and joined the staff as a part-time employee in 2012. She edits and writes for the monthly e-newsletter, co-coordinates Pen 2 Paper, and heads up CTD’s research department. She sits on the advisory boards for SafePlace and the Austin Interfaith Inclusion Network. Susie was raised in Boston and California before moving to Austin in 1987. Her hobbies include creative writing, dramatic performance, mixed-ability dancing, modelling, and watching baseball with her other half.