7th Circuit Rules Against School Districts in NCLB Challenge

By Mark Walsh — February 11, 2008 1 min read
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A federal appeals court today rejected a lawsuit by two Illinois school districts and four families that said the No Child Left Behind Act was in conflict with the main federal special education law.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, ruled unanimously in Board of Education of Ottawa Township High School District 140 v. Spellings that the “plaintiffs’ claim is too weak to justify continued litigation.”

The Ottawa high school district, along with Ottawa Elementary School District 141 and the parents of four students in special education, had sued in 2005, claiming that NCLB’s testing requirements conflict with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

As Education Week reported at the time, the suit said that the IDEA’s requirement that each special education student have an individualized education plan is contrary to the requirement under NCLB that special education students count as one subgroup whose test results help determine whether a school makes adequate yearly progress, the key measure for holding schools accountable under the law.

A U.S. District Court judge in Chicago dismissed the suit, ruling that the school districts and students did not have standing because they had suffered no concrete injuries under NCLB.

The 7th Circuit panel reversed the judge on that issue, ruling that the school districts, at least, had standing to sue Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings because NCLB requires the districts to “pay for more tests than they would administer if left to their own devices.”

That part of the ruling may be significant for other districts that seek to challenge NCLB, and the court took note of the major ruling by its neighboring court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, that in January revived a major lawsuit challenging NCLB as an unfunded mandate. (See my latest blog post on that case here.)

But the 7th Circuit panel quickly moved on to its conclusion that, on the merits, the Illinois suit could not go forward.

The court said that even if NCLB, signed into law in 2002, was in conflict with the IDEA, which was first enacted under a different name in 1970, the newer law would take precedence.

“Plaintiffs’ view that an earlier law can repeal a later one by implication has time traveling in the wrong direction,” the court said.

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.