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Supreme Court Says,
"Congress Intended to Open the Door to All Qualified Children"

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On March 3, 1999, the U. S. Supreme Court issued a favorable decision in Garret F. v. Cedar Rapids.

In the 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires school districts to provide nursing services if such services are necessary for the disabled child to receive an education.
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:

"Respondent Garret F. is a friendly, creative, and intelligent young man. When Garret was four years old, his spinal column was severed in a motorcycle accident. Though paralyzed from the neck down, his mental capacities were unaffected. He is able to speak, to control his motorized wheelchair through use of a puff and suck straw, and to operate a computer with a device that responds to head movements. Garret is currently a student in the Cedar Rapids Community School District (District), he attends regular classes in a typical school program, and his academic performance has been a success. Garret is, however, ventilator dependent, and therefore requires a responsible individual nearby to attend to certain physical needs while he is in school."

"This case is about whether meaningful access to the public schools will be assured, not the level of education that a school must finance once access is attained. It is undisputed that the services at issue must be provided if Garret is to remain in school."

"Under the statute, our precedent and the purposes of the IDEA, the district must fund such related services to help guarantee that students like Garret are integrated into the public schools."

"Congress intended to open the door of public education to all qualified children and required participating states to educate handicapped children with non-handicapped children whenever possible.''

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer joined Justice Stevens in the decision for Garret.

Two Justices, Clarence Thomas and Anthony M. Kennedy, dissented. The dissenting opinion was written by Justice Thomas.

Garret and his family are delighted with the decision. Garret's mother, Charlene Frey, hoped that the justices would hold that all students with disabilities can and should have access to public school.

When the school district appealed the lower courts' decisions, she said, "We are going to stick with this, not only because we feel strongly about this issue, but so that no other child or family ever has to go through the stress and emotional toil we have endured fighting the school system on disability access."

You can download the decision in Cedar Rapids Community School District v. Garret F. from the Caselaw Section of the Law Library.

Listen to the Oral Argument in the case (MP3 download)

What Are Related Services?

Definitions of related services
from the IDEA statute and regulations.

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