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Appropriately Ambitious:

A Special Education Legal Blog 

“But [the student’s] educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances …. The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives”

Endrew F. v. Douglas Cnty. Scl. Dist. RE-1, 137 S.Ct. 988, 1000 (2017).

  • Writer's picturePatrick G. Radel, Esq.

Two Minute Tip for a Better IEP: One BIG Special Ed Myth you Need to Know

"Half the truth is often a great lie." - Ben Franklin.

Parents of students with disabilities may hear a half truth when they push for their child to spend more time in general education. They are told the general education class would be too "fast-paced," "frustrating," and "overwhelming."

This could be true. The gen ed curriculum may be beyond the student's abilities (although students surprise us) and could cause frustration (especially at first).

So why is this often a great lie? Because students with disabilities can and should be included even if they can't keep up with the class. In other words, mastery isn't the measure. Students with disabilities are entitled to a modified curriculum, with their individual IEP goals (not Common Core) as the measuring stick.

A summary and some suggestions:


A Student Cannot be Excluded Simply Because She Needs a Modified Curriculum

IDEA (the main special education law) says that students may be placed in separate classes only if “education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.” 20 U.S.C. § 1412 (a)(5)(A).

A student with a disability cannot be “removed from education in age-appropriate regular classrooms solely because of needed modifications in the general education curriculum.” 34 CFR § 300.116 (e).

For more than 30 years, the federal courts have said: “the fact that a child with disabilities will learn differently ... within a regular classroom does not justify exclusion from that environment.” Oberti v. Bd. of Educ. (3d Cir. 1993). Access to general education does not depend on "a child's ability to perform on par" with his peers. Daniel RR v. State Bd. of Educ. (5th Cir. 1989).

How do we know the student is learning? By measuring progress toward IEP goals. A.S. v. Norwalk Bd. of Educ. (D. Conn. 2002)(“[T]he appropriate yardstick is whether [the student] with appropriate supplemental aids and services, can make progress towards her IEP goals in the regular education setting.”).


Radel's Ruminations

1. Think of Special Education as a Service, not a Place. Special education teachers don't need to stay in the "special education classroom." They can modify curriculum and support students with disabilities in general education by co-teaching and/or through consultant teacher services. Paraprofessionals (teacher assistants, teaching aides) can provide practical, instructional, behavioral, and sensory supports. Therapists can "push-in" and/or consult on strategies. The student doesn't need to leave general education to receive special education; services can come to her.

2. Look for Access Points. Even if the student can't read Macbeth or understand all the themes (really, who does?), he can work toward an IEP goal by listening to a peer read a summary and answering "who" and "what" questions about the characters. The student might not do long division, but can practice calculator skills by acting as the class "fact checker."

3. Consider Other Benefits of Inclusion. Decades of research show that students with disabilities benefit from the communication and behavior models provided in general education classes. Think of gen ed inclusion challenges as opportunities to build skills that will support independent living and employment in adulthood (working with people without disabilities; coping with situations that are uncomfortable or frustrating; transitioning between different settings). These benefits must be considered, along with the need for educational progress (measured by IEP goals), when determining the proper program and placement.


For legal education only.  This does not constitute legal advice or establish an attorney-client relationship.

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