- Text smaller
- Text bigger
The Supreme Court has ruled that nursing services are not medical
treatment in a case involving the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act, which not only denies the obvious, but opens up a brand
new area of civil rights exploration and exploitation.
The case centered on Garret Frey, a 16-year-old, severely handicapped
youth whose spine was severed in a motorcycle accident when he was four
years old. Garret’s parents asked the school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to
provide a full-time nurse so that their quadriplegic son, who breathes
with the aid of a ventilator and needs help with routine bodily
functions, can attend public
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), passed in
1975, says that children with mental or physical impairments are
entitled to a “free appropriate public education.” It also gives them
the right to be “mainstreamed” into regular classrooms. However, it does
not require schools to pick up the cost of medical services. Now that
the High Court has ruled that the exemption for “medical services”
applies only when a doctor’s help is needed, everything has changed.
Since IDEA is a first cousin to the Americans with Disabilities Act
(ADA), it could open the door to requiring companies to provide similar
services for the severely handicapped who seek employment. It is
estimated that the cost of providing these services for some 17,000
“medically fragile” children would cost an extra $500 million a year. If
a similar ruling were handed down under ADA, the cost to the nation’s
businesses would be in the billions.
Kathy Hogancamp, a private tutor in Paducah, Ky., who has been both a
state legislator and a program specialist at the Federal Department of
Education, is concerned. Hogancamp, who has been a quadriplegic since
high school, presented testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives
against ADA for several reasons: “Under ADA a person only has to ‘think’
he has been discriminated against to bring an action against a business.
When that happens, a business is guilty until it can prove it is
innocent, which turns our legal system upside down.”
Hogancamp cited the recent experience of her brother, a physician. A
person who is hearing impaired made an appointment to see him and then
demanded he hire an interpreter. Hogancamp says this law gives disabled
people the right to make unreasonable claims on public and private
resources without assuming any responsibilities.
When people think of the Americans with Disabilities Act they think
of such things as accommodating people in wheelchairs with ramps and
restrooms. However, Hogancamp says that this law is written so broadly
that it gives people who have maladies resulting from behavior choices
— such as those who abuse drugs, alcohol, or even food — claims on a
wide variety of programs and services, straining resources.
While the law requiring the mainstreaming of handicapped students
sounds good, it makes no sense to put children with severe mental
handicaps in regular classes. It is better to put these students in with
their peers where they can be challenged to perform to limits of their
abilities rather than pretending that they are keeping up with average
Hogancamp says IDEA is based on the false assumption that there are
unlimited resources. She calls it “false compassion.” She believes that
the desires of families like Garret’s, who want their children in public
school classrooms, should be balanced against the needs of the other
Bottom line: the Supreme Court has interpreted this law too broadly.
Congress made the law and Congress can fix it, but it isn’t likely to
touch what has become a sacred cow, second only to affirmative action.
Unfortunately, it takes someone with the moral authority of a Kathy
Hogancamp to articulate these problems, and there are not many people
with her professional and personal experience who are willing to speak