The Supreme Court has ruled that nursing services are not medicaltreatment in a case involving the Individuals with DisabilitiesEducation Act, which not only denies the obvious, but opens up a brandnew area of civil rights exploration and exploitation.
The case centered on Garret Frey, a 16-year-old, severely handicappedyouth whose spine was severed in a motorcycle accident when he was fouryears old. Garret's parents asked the school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, toprovide a full-time nurse so that their quadriplegic son, who breatheswith the aid of a ventilator and needs help with routine bodilyfunctions, can attend publicschool.
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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), passed in1975, says that children with mental or physical impairments areentitled to a "free appropriate public education." It also gives themthe right to be "mainstreamed" into regular classrooms. However, it doesnot require schools to pick up the cost of medical services. Now thatthe 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 similarservices for the severely handicapped who seek employment. It isestimated that the cost of providing these services for some 17,000"medically fragile" children would cost an extra $500 million a year. Ifa similar ruling were handed down under ADA, the cost to the nation'sbusinesses would be in the billions.
Kathy Hogancamp, a private tutor in Paducah, Ky., who has been both astate legislator and a program specialist at the Federal Department ofEducation, is concerned. Hogancamp, who has been a quadriplegic sincehigh school, presented testimony to the U.S. House of Representativesagainst 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 isinnocent, which turns our legal system upside down."
Hogancamp cited the recent experience of her brother, a physician. Aperson who is hearing impaired made an appointment to see him and thendemanded he hire an interpreter. Hogancamp says this law gives disabledpeople the right to make unreasonable claims on public and privateresources without assuming any responsibilities.
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When people think of the Americans with Disabilities Act they thinkof such things as accommodating people in wheelchairs with ramps andrestrooms. However, Hogancamp says that this law is written so broadlythat it gives people who have maladies resulting from behavior choices-- such as those who abuse drugs, alcohol, or even food -- claims on awide variety of programs and services, straining resources.
While the law requiring the mainstreaming of handicapped studentssounds good, it makes no sense to put children with severe mentalhandicaps in regular classes. It is better to put these students in withtheir peers where they can be challenged to perform to limits of theirabilities rather than pretending that they are keeping up with averagestudents.
Hogancamp says IDEA is based on the false assumption that there areunlimited resources. She calls it "false compassion." She believes thatthe desires of families like Garret's, who want their children in publicschool classrooms, should be balanced against the needs of the otherstudents.
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 totouch what has become a sacred cow, second only to affirmative action.Unfortunately, it takes someone with the moral authority of a KathyHogancamp to articulate these problems, and there are not many peoplewith her professional and personal experience who are willing to speakup.