Missouri Supreme Court rejects challenge to special ed law

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a claim that legislators were fooled into repealing a rarely followed state law that required schools to "maximize" the abilities of disabled students.

An advocacy group for disabled students argued the addition of the repeal language to another bill in the final days of the 2002 legislative session went unnoticed by many lawmakers and violated the constitutional prohibition against misleading or deceptive legislation.

In a unanimous opinion written by Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr., the court said the measure passed constitutional muster.

As originally approved by the House of Representatives, the bill related to the discipline of disabled students and judicial review of disputes between parents and school officials.

State Sen. Bill Foster, R-Poplar Bluff, introduced a substitute version in the upper chamber that removed a provision enacted in 1973 that required schools to offer services necessary to "maximize the capabilities of handicapped and severely handicapped children."

Foster's measure required only that schools provide disabled students with "a free appropriate education" consistent with federal standards that most districts had been following for decades. The change was prompted by a state appeals court ruling that would have forced schools to meet the higher -- and more expensive -- standard.

Foster, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said the old standard was ill-defined and, if taken to the extreme, could have required schools to provide services beyond what the state could reasonably afford.

"We felt the word 'maximize' went too far to describe what we wanted to do," Foster said. "With all of our heart, we are continuing to do whatever we can possibly do for those students within the restraints of our budget."

Although Foster's version of the bill passed with near-unanimous support in both legislative chambers, just days later 66 lawmakers unhappy with how the measure was handled wrote Gov. Bob Holden urging a veto. Holden signed it into law over those objections.

The court case was brought by Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services, a watchdog group that monitors compliance with special education laws, on behalf of Ian McEuen, a disabled student in Boone County.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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