Federal law requires school districts to provide students with disabilities a free appropriate public education, but it is up to the district to decide where that requirement can best be met, NSBA and the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) said in a brief filed for R.K. v. Board of Education of Scott County, Kentucky recently in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The case was initiated in 2009, when “R.K,” a student with Type I diabetes, was in kindergartener in Scott County, Ky. Initially, R.K. needed insulin injections during the school day, but later he began using an insulin pump that required accurate input of certain dietary information.
The NSBA-KSBA brief noted that the Kentucky Board of Nursing had advised schools not to delegate the responsibility for monitoring insulin pumps to other staff. With this recommendation in mind, the district told R. K.’s parents that he could attend one of two elementary with onsite nurses. However, the parents said the district had an obligation to educate R.K. at his neighborhood school, and sued.
A district court judge ruled in June that R.K. had no “absolute right” to attend his neighborhood school, and the parents appealed the decision to the 6th Circuit.
The NBSA-KSBA brief says there is a fundamental difference between an “educational placement” decision, concerning the types of services and supports offered to a student, and the “physical location” where those services are provided.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) requires that students be educated in “the least restrictive environment,” the brief says. However, in the Kentucky case, NSBA and KSBA said, “the student does not allege he has been removed from education with his non-disabled peers; his sole allegation is that he was denied assignment to his neighborhood school.”
NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. said Section 504 does not require districts to educate children with disabilities in their neighborhood school.
“The court should not read into Section 504 a requirement that a school district be required to provide all disability-related services to students in their neighborhood schools,” Negrón said.
“In addition to minimizing the role of the individualized education program staffing process, such a ruling could needlessly increase costs by minimizing the flexibility of school districts in managing limited resources.”
NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant said a decision against the school district threatens the “common practice of deploying the districts’ resources in a many that is both fiscally responsible and educationally sound.”