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Reports Question if Gorsuch Will Protect Kids With Disabilities

President Trump's pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, has a history of ruling against students with disabilities. (WhiteHouse.gov via Wikimedia Commons)
President Trump's pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, has a history of ruling against students with disabilities. (WhiteHouse.gov via Wikimedia Commons)
March 20, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- According to two new reports, Judge Neil Gorsuch - President Trump's nominee for the 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, said 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,” Garcia said.

Reports from the National Education Association and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law point to one case as an example in which 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, managing attorney with the Bazelon Center, said Gorsuch's de minimus - or minimum standards - rulings show he 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 said. "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 added that while parents and civil rights advocates rely on rules designed to end abusive practices, 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.' Why wouldn't you be on the side of parents?” Garcia said.

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.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - FL