Oberti v. Clementon: Summary & Significance

Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

The Oberti v. Board of Education of the Borough of Clementon School District case established a test to determine whether a school district is in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

IDEA

Rafeal Oberti has Down's Syndrome. When he was a kindergartener, he had some behavioral problems at his local elementary school in the Borough of Clementon in Philadelphia. He experienced potty-training accidents, hid from his teacher, spit on other students, and hit the teacher's aid. At the end of the school year, school administrators decided to transfer Rafael to a special education class. The class was in a different school district, since no such class was available in Rafael's local school district.

Rafael's parents objected. After much failed negotiation, they initiated a lawsuit. They felt the Borough of Clementon School District violated the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. IDEA is a federal law that requires schools to educate disabled children in the least restrictive environment, or LRE. This means disabled students must be educated alongside those who are not disabled to the 'maximum extent appropriate'.

Mainstreaming

When disabled students are educated in general classrooms alongside non-disabled students, it's known as mainstreaming. Under the terms of IDEA, disabled students don't always have to be mainstreamed.

Disabled students can sometimes be placed in special classes, or at separate facilities. However, this can be done only if the nature or severity of the disability prevents satisfactory education from being achieved through mainstreaming - even after using 'supplementary aids and services'. In other words, the district cannot simply mainstream the disabled student and hope for the best. The district has a duty to provide extra assistance in the classroom and make a genuine effort to include the disabled student.

That didn't happen in Rafael's case. His kindergarten teacher made certain efforts to modify the curriculum for Rafael, but there were no supplementary aids or services used to address his behavior.

Oberti v. Board of Education of the Borough of Clementon School District

The Oberti v. Borough of Clementon School District case eventually reached the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The school district maintained that Rafael was not prepared for mainstreaming, while the Oberti family presented experts who testified that Rafael could be mainstreamed with supplemental aids and services. The family argued that the district had not attempted to mainstream Rafael to the 'maximum extent appropriate'.

The court sided with the Oberti family. They developed an important two-part test to determine whether or not the school district met the LRE requirement of IDEA. School districts across the country should use this general analysis, sometimes known as the Oberti test, to determine their compliance:

  • Can the student be satisfactorily educated in a general classroom with the use of supplementary aids and services? If the answer is yes, then the district must provide those aids and services.
  • If the answer is no, and the student must be placed outside the general education classroom, will the student still be placed with non-disabled students to the maximum extent appropriate? For example, can the student be placed with non-disabled students during elective periods, lunch hour, recess and other times?

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