Gorsuch Challenged on Record Regarding Students with Disabilities
SALT LAKE CITY – According to two new reports, Judge Neil Gorsuch – President Donald Trump's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court – has repeatedly failed to protect the rights of students with disabilities.
Gorsuch is set to testify before the U.S. Senate Monday.
National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, who taught students with special needs during her 20-year classroom career, says everyone should be concerned by the trend in Gorsuch's record.
"He's endorsed the lowest expectations for students with disabilities, and he's allowed schools to provide our highest need students with the bare minimum of an educational benefit," she states.
Reports from the NEA and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law point to one case as an example where an autistic student's progress was dramatically reversed after switching schools.
The parents sued the second school district, but Gorsuch sided with the district, ruling the student was only entitled to make progress that was slightly above the lowest possible standard.
Mark Murphy, the Bazelon Center’s managing attorney, says Gorsuch's de minimus – or minimum standards – rulings show Gorsuch is not sensitive to, or doesn't understand, the legal rights of people with disabilities.
"It really reflects really low expectations for kids with disabilities,” Murphy asserts. “I think it's fair to say that no parent of a child without a disability would be happy if the school district said that they only had to provide a de minimus level of education for them."
Garcia adds while parents and civil rights advocates rely on rules designed to end abusive practices, she says Gorsuch seems to have an antagonistic view toward agencies charged with protecting kids at risk.
"Why wouldn't you want to be on a parent's side when they say, 'We know what benefits our children because we saw it in this school, and we're not getting it in the second school,'” she points out. “Why wouldn't you be on the side of parents?"
The reports also show Gorsuch's rulings have allowed schools to use force and to isolate students with disabilities, despite studies showing that these students, especially students of color, are disproportionately subjected to the practice in schools.