RESPONDENT: Amy Rowley, by her parents Clifford and Nancy Rowley, and Clifford and Nacy Rowley in their own right
LOCATION: Furnace Woods School
DOCKET NO.: 80-1002
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
CITATION: 458 US 176 (1982)
ARGUED: Mar 23, 1982
DECIDED: Jun 28, 1982
GRANTED: Nov 02, 1981
Elliott Schulder - on behalf of United States as amicus curiae
Michael A. Chatoff - on behalf of the Respondent
Raymond G. Kuntz - on behalf of the Petitioners
Facts of the case
Furnace Woods School refused to provide deaf student Amy Rowley with a sign language interpreter. Amy was an excellent lip reading and had minimal residual hearing. School administrators, along with a sign language expert, determined Amy was able to succeed in school without an interpreter. Amy’s parents sued the school on her behalf for violation of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. The Act requires all schools that accept federal funds to provide a “free appropriate public education” to all handicapped students. The Act also allows schools discretion in deciding what steps to take to accommodate handicapped students.
The district court ruled in the Rowleys' favor, holding that while Amy was doing better in school than the average hearing student, she was not achieving to her full potential because she was unable to understand as much as she would with a sign language interpreter. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed.
What does “free and appropriate public education” require in the context of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975?
Media for Board of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist., Westchester Cty. v. Rowley
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 23, 1982 in Board of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist., Westchester Cty. v. Rowley
Warren E. Burger:
We will hear arguments first this morning in Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District against Amy Rowley, by her parents.
Mr. Kuntz, you may proceed whenever you're ready.
Raymond G. Kuntz:
Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:
The principal issue before the Court this morning is: Did the Hendrick Hudson Central School District meet the requirements of Public Law 94-142, the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, when it provided Amy Rowley with an educational program which resulted in outstanding academic achievement and social success, although it did not comply with her parents' wishes that a sign language interpreter be placed in her classroom.
In one respect the case that's before you is an age old problem that confronts every public school board.
It's not unusual in the course of any child's education that the parents disagree with the program prescribed or dictated by the local school board.
And the question before you then becomes, how does this Act handle a disagreement with a program or a placement developed by a local school district by the parents when the parents are the parents of a handicapped child.
According to the Respondent's position in this case, if they are able to persuade a court that they have a rational basis for the program that they advocate... that it's a slightly better program, if it results in somewhat improved performance... it's their claim that the Act allows them to go to court and to have the court dictate to the local educational institution that better program.
Now, this is not a case where no services were provided to Amy Rowley.
As a matter of fact, extraordinary care was taken to ensure benefit from the placement that was developed for her by the local school district.
Before Amy Rowley enrolled in the Hendrick Hudson School District, plans were made for her arrival in this particular school.
The school district has several elementary schools and in this particular elementary school this was the first time that this elementary school was to educate a deaf child.
And the first determination made by the school district prior to the entry of Amy into the classroom was that she would not be sent to a school for the deaf, but that the school would make an effort, an attempt to educate her in a regular classroom.
Now, having made that determination, the school then prepared to receive her.
The teachers in the school took a sign language course, because they knew that Amy was somewhat familiar with sign language and they wanted to be able to communicate with Amy.
They did not know Amy, but they wanted to do everything that they thought they could to prepare themselves for her arrival at the school.
The school district purchased a teletype machine which they installed in the office of the principal.
Amy's parents are both deaf, they have a teletype machine, and consequently the school and the parents can communicate visually by means of the teletype machine.
The school then went a little bit further.
They hand picked Amy's teacher.
They gave her a teacher that they thought would be responsive to the problems provided by a deaf child.
They put her in a small classroom.
They made that classroom visually oriented, so that instead of ringing bells they flashed lights.
They seated Amy... they gave her a preferential seating so that she was in a position to see everything that went on; in other words, to make use of her natural facilities to enable her to understand what was going on in that classroom.
Then they agreed with the parents that an experimental program would be conducted.
That is, during the first year, the kindergarten year, would be a time of trial where various methods would be experimented with to see what was appropriate for Amy.
The first thing they did was to do nothing, so that they could have some base data upon which to compare the results of the other experiments.
Then they tried a variety of hearing aids to see what kind of hearing, supplemental electronic hearing, worked best.
They tested Amy.
They had her hearing tested.