Cardozo Law Review de•novo

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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s (IDEA) predecessor established a legal presumption in favor of educating all students with disabilities in an integrated, “least restrictive environment” (LRE) to the “maximum extent appropriate.” Yet, the precise meaning of this statutory presumption remains unsettled, which has led to mounting special education disputes in federal court. This Article addresses a less developed area of IDEA litigation: namely, how federal courts should interpret this statutory presumption in light of the disproportionate placement of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities in separate settings.

Whether students with the most significant cognitive disabilities sacrifice their right to an integrated educational opportunity raises novel issues at the intersection of both liberty and equality. Despite the treatment that students with disabilities have received in judicial opinions and legal scholarship to date, neither forum has undertaken an exhaustive analysis of the prevailing circuit split as it applies to students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. This Article aims to fill that gap. As a normative matter, moreover, the Article adds to the literature by demonstrating that students with the most significant cognitive disabilities should possess all of the same protections under the IDEA that are enjoyed by similarly-situated students with high-incidence disabilities. It then concludes by arguing in favor of adopting the Ninth Circuit’s four-factor balancing test as the most practical national judicial standard for assessing school districts’ compliance with the IDEA’s integration presumption.


Cardozo Law Review de·novo



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Author Announcement, Chris Yarrell.jpg (99 kB)
Chris Yarrell is a 2022 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law.