What's New/News: Vol. 2, Issue 7
Many of you are unaware of a wonderful resource in Texas. I can make this statement because I have had many letters on social security and SSI benefits. So I must tell you about Texas Rural Legal Aid (TRLA). They may be able to help people who have been denied benefits. TRLA provides free legal assistance to income eligible individuals.
The Supreme Court has addressed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in four cases that had to do with disabilities that are easily remedied with such daily devices as eyeglasses. I won't discuss all of the cases but basically the Supremes decided that the ADA was established to protect those individuals who have disabilities that cannot be remedied by devices like glasses, hearing aids, medicines, etc. In one case, two sisters who were pilots wanted to work for a commercial airline. Unfortunately, both were myopic and wore glasses. The airlines want individuals with perfect vision without glasses. With glasses, they had 20/20 vision. The Court held that the two sisters were not covered by the ADA because they could see perfectly with glasses.
My concerns have more to do with what happens with individuals who take medicines. For example, are diabetics covered under ADA? My interpretation is that they may not be if the matter was taken to the Supreme Court. It could be argued that diabetics and others dependent on readily available medications should not be covered by ADA. (Don't lose any sleep over the matter. No one is challenging this issue at this time.)
I keep seeing cuts in SSI, SSDI and other social programs for the disabled. Decisions such as these could lead to further cuts.
Justice and the Disabled
I was asked to testify in a family law case. I was the expert witness called in to try to remedy the judge's decision. The story was unbelievable.
First, the mother of this child with a disability went into court to ask for an increase in child support to place the child in an appropriate school. She felt that the public school system was not providing her child with the best education he could get. (Keep in mind that the schools do not have to provide the "best" education, only an appropriate one). The father, who seldom if ever sees the boy, did not want to pay any increase. So he asked that the child be placed at the Juvenile Justice Academy.
The Juvenile Justice Academy in San Antonio provides an education in a very restrictive environment to students who have been expelled or suspended from their home districts. These students have usually been in the alternative education programs in their home districts. By the time the children get placed at the Juvenile Justice Academy, they have usually committed a crime or two and tend to be fairly streetwise and dangerous. To be fair, some students are place there due to excessive truancy.
Keep in mind that this boy has done nothing wrong. He has been placed in a school program by an A.R.D.C. (Admission, Review and Dismissal Committee). The federal law is that a child with a disability with an educational need can be placed in special education by an A.R.D.C. composed of a multidisciplinary team of professionals (and the parents) familiar with the student. This committee must place the child in the least restrictive environment possible and provide him with a free, appropriate public education. The committee decided that the student should spend this summer working to make up some credit hours he still needed. A work program is very legitimate. Many students graduate through the Vocational Adjustment program where they work anywhere from half to a full day in an area where they can be successful.
Through no fault or crime of his own, this young man was working successfully. He was earning three credits so that, in the Fall, he would be on grade level. The judge thought the boy should be taking Reading and Math. As a result, the judge tried to order the boy into the Juvenile Justice Academy. Expert witnesses from the district testified that the placement of a special education student must be by A.R.D.C. The judge ordered an A.R.D.C. for the following week. She would make her decision after the committee met.
For those of you who are not in the field of Law, one thing is important to know here -- Federal Law trumps State Law and Family Court is governed by State law. Basically, the judge was trying to make an order that violated state law.
I attended the A.R.D.C. and to testify as an expert in court. The committee that met was multidisciplinary but not one person in attendance, other than the mother, was familiar with the child. They knew that they had no authority to make a decision that would change the child's placement. However, they also knew that the Juvenile Justice Academy was NOT the least restrictive environment and that the placement would not be appropriate. Fortunately, I was able to talk them into "adding to" the student's program. We did not change the basic program. We just added 45 minutes of Reading and Language and 45 minutes of Math to his program.
Then we went to court. The other side did not bother to show up. They had won. No matter what happened, child support would not be increased to provide the child with a better education. The other side, the child's own father, did not care if the child was thrown in the Juvenile Justice Academy or if the child was placed elsewhere. I talked to the judge who reluctantly agreed to our plan. The child's best interest was served but, Justice, somehow, seemed to have fallen by the wayside.