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Suit Tests Adequacy of Programs for the Gifted

By Vernon Loeb — July 12, 2019 3 min read


The state’s lobby for education of the gifted has squared off with the Pennsylvania School Boards Association in a case that could bring about significant changes in the kind of special instruction school districts must offer gifted students.

Now heading for the state supreme court, the case involves a district in the Philadelphia suburbs that was ordered by the Pennsylvania secretary of education to provide individualized instruction to a gifted elementary-school student within the regular classroom

The secretary’s ruling was affirmed in January by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, which agreed that the Centennial School District’s weekly enrichment program for gifted students was not sufficient to meet the needs of Terry Auspitz, now 12 years old and in the 6th grade

But just what impact that decision could have is the subject of considerable debate, as lawyers for Centennial and the school-boards association prepare their appeals, which could be filed as early as this week.

“What you have is the creation of a new handicap called ‘boredom,’” John Philip Diefenderfer, Centennial’s solicitor, said last week.

If the Commonwealth Court ruling is upheld, Mr. Diefenderfer said, the parents of any gifted child—generally those with I.Q. scores of 130 or above—could demand individualized, accelerated instruction simply’ by demonstrating that their child was bored in the regular classroom.

Such instruction, he and other lawyers opposed to the ruling contend, would be enormously expensive and would end up siphoning off already limited funds from districts’ regular education programs.

“I think the average kid will be shortchanged,” Mr. Diefenderfer said.

Affirmed State Statute

Janet Stotland, a lawyer with the Philadelphia-based Education Law Center, disagreed. First, she said last week, the rulings by both the secretary of education and the Commonwealth Court did nothing more than affirm the 1977 state statute requiring “a program of education or training for exceptional school-age persons which meets their individual needs ... “

And second, Ms. Stotland said, the weekly enrichment programs currently offered by most districts would probably be sufficient to meet the needs of most students with I.Q.'s of between 130 and 150.

Exceptional Needs

Only truly “brilliant” students, she said, would have to have individualized courses of instruction created to meet their exceptional individual needs. “And I don’t think that’s going to bankrupt districts to do,” she added.

In any event, though, the publicity surrounding the case and the stand taken by the Pennsylvania Department of Education should put districts on notice that they have to take their responsibility for providing individualized education programs for gifted students seriously, Ms. Stotland said.

Both she and Timothy Potts, a spokesman for the department of education, said they had no reason to assume that most school districts were out of compliance with the requirement for creating individualized programs for all gifted students.

“And we really don’t have any reason to expect that this case will result in a flood of appeals to the secretary of education,” Mr. Potts said. “This case has nothing to do with that. The policy has been on the books for nine years.”

Landmark Ruling

Nonetheless, the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education (PAGE) has hailed the Commonwealth Court’s decision as a landmark ruling.

PAGE officials have been fighting for years for accelerated instruction for gifted students, as opposed to the so-called “enrichment” approach taken by most Pennsylvania districts.

If the supreme court upholds the ruling in the Centennial case, PAGE officials have said that they plan to use the decision to teach their members how to press for a better education for their gifted children.

A version of this article appeared in the April 09, 1986 edition of Education Week


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