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Gifted Programs Not a Right, Conn. Court Rules

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Public school students in Connecticut do not have a constitutional right to programs of gifted-and-talented education, the state supreme court has ruled.

"There is not the slightest suggestion in the legislative history of the special-education statutes,'' the court wrote in its unanimous decision this month, "that the legislature, in establishing a program of special education, sought either to define the parameters of the state constitutional right to a free public education, or to constitutionalize any particular kind of educational program for exceptional children.''

The ruling comes at a time when research indicates that gifted students are being shortchanged in the classroom. (See Education Week, Nov. 10, 1993.)

The Connecticut lawsuit was filed on behalf of Neil Broadley, who was identified as a gifted child when he entered kindergarten in the Meriden district in 1986, according to court records.

Neil's parents wanted the district to provide him with a special program, the court noted, but the school district refused to do so, although it did offer some individualized attention.

Consequently, Neil became "bored and frustrated'' with school, court records say.

Lawyers for the Broadley family argued that gifted children, under state law, are considered exceptional children who need special-education programs because their progress would be stymied in a regular program.

The state high court agreed that gifted children fall under the rubric of exceptional children, but the justices found no law mandating special programs for them.

"Special education is statutorily required, however, only for children with disabilities,'' the court wrote, "and not for gifted children, who may be provided with a program of special education at the option of the local school board.''

Impact Weighed

Some advocates for gifted children expressed doubt that the decision would have ramifications outside Connecticut.

"I don't think the decision will have any impact nationally,'' said Peter D. Rosenstein, the executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children.

"In fact, things seem to be going the other way,'' he said, noting that Illinois, North Carolina, and Rhode Island recently increased funding for their gifted programs and that Nebraska has similar legislation pending.

But Joseph Renzulli, the director of the Natinal Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut, said the decision could be used as a legal precedent elsewhere.

"We were hoping this [legal action] might give us a little leverage to provide some equity for kids who need more challenging school experiences,'' Mr. Renzulli said.

Over the past few years, Connecticut has continued to cut funding of gifted programs.

"I don't think you would find a school district that wouldn't want to provide some real quality programming for gifted and talented youngsters,'' said Audrey C. Burke, the director of the office of pupil personnel for Meriden. "The money is just not there.''

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