Voices

Quality Special Education is a Civil Right

On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and we’re thinking about this year’s theme of inclusion and equality, especially in terms of special education as a civil right. Meet #MyNURFC Events Manager Jessica Roncker and her older brother Neill.

Neill battled epilepsy and brain damage from meningitis as a boy, but graduated from Pleasant Ridge Elementary School and Woodward High School despite his disability. Jessica calls Neill “one of the lucky ones” because when their parents were unhappy with his educational options, their mother, Mary Ann Roncker, decided to take the school district to court.

With the help of the Ohio Legal Rights Service, Mary Ann battled the Cincinnati Board of Education from 1979 to 1983 for Neill’s right to attend special education classes in a regular school environment. Roncker v. Walter cited both the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment and the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of 1954 and was finally won in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals when the US Supreme Court declined to hear it.

The win established the basis for the Roncker portability test which questions whether a segregated environment is better than a mainstreaming program and ensures that services be provided in a non-segregated setting if possible. It set a standard for the principle of Least Restrictive Environment, the idea that children in special education should spend as much appropriate time as possible with non-disabled peers.

"On this International Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to work together for a better world that is inclusive, equitable and sustainable for everyone, where the rights of people with disabilities are fully realized." — António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

You can learn more about the International Day of Persons with Disabilities here.