Wednesday, November 8, 2006
State Not Required to Give Free College Education to Highly Gifted Student Under 16—Court of Appeal
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
The state does not have to pay for the college education of an extremely gifted student under the age of 16, the Third District Court of Appeal held yesterday.
In a suit brought on behalf of now 16-year-old UCLA senior Levi M. Clancy Levi, the court unanimously affirmed Sacramento Superior Court Judge Raymond M. Cadei’s ruling sustaining the California Department of Education’s demurrer without leave to amend.
Levi’s mother, Leila J. Levi, sued the department and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell in February 2004 on behalf of her then-13-year-old son. She alleged her highly gifted child could not comply with the state’s compulsory education law by attending traditional K-12 public schools, because they were unable to provide for his specific “psycho-social and academic needs.”
In order to remain in school as required by law, Levi alleged, her son had to attend college because he had already completed a standard K-12 education—enrolling at Santa Monica College as a seven-year-old, passing the high school proficiency exam at age nine, and starting at UCLA when he was 13. He is now about to graduate with a degree in microbiology and is considering a PhD program at Stanford University.
Levi, a single mother and single income earner, claimed the department was required under the state’s equal protection clause to provide her son with a free public education at the college level while he was a minor under 16. She sought declaratory relief and/or a writ of mandate compelling the department to provide her son with a free education suited to his personal needs, and reimbursement of the teen’s education expenses at SMC and UCLA.
After Cadei sustained the department’s demurrer on all three causes of action, Levi appealed as to the writ of mandate. Her son would be forced into truancy, she argued, and sought nothing more than what the state already offers to students with special needs.
The Court of Appeal held California was not required, by state or federal law, to provide a highly gifted child with a free college education on the ground that it is the appropriate schooling tailored to his particular needs.
Writing for the Court of Appeal, Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said that under the IDEA, a “child with a disability” is defined as one needing special education and related services due to conditions including mental retardation, hearing and speech impairments, autism and specific learning disabilities.
“There are no allegations he needs special education and related services by reason of any of the disabilities or impairments listed in the [Individuals with Disability Education Act],” she wrote. “Therefore, he does not come within the provisions of the IDEA an he is not a child with exceptional needs as defined by California’s special education law.”
The state’s constitutional guarantee of a single standard and uniform system of free public K-12 education did not extend to college, the justice added.
She noted that Levi’s concerns about truancy law were “speculative” since such laws were not being applied to her son.
Presiding Justice Arthur G. Scotland and Justice Fred K. Morrison concurred in the opinion.
Levi’s lawyer, Richard D. Ackerman, told the MetNews he would file a petition for review with the state Supreme Court, and likely also with the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of what “disability” means under the IDEA.
“We’re just really concerned about the fact that the court was unable to see that being extremely gifted can equate to having special needs,” he said. “You simply can’t take a 7-year-old or 9-year-old that was at the capacity that Clancy was and expect them to perform in a normal K-12 environment. I think you can just as easily call that inability to work within the system a disability.”
If left untouched, he commented, the ruling could operate to deprive students who are “disabled” in the traditional sense of a fair and equal education:
“The decision says that if you don’t fit neatly within any of these categories, you’re not entitled to any special educational services. That’s a very dangerous precedent because you could be excluding kids on both ends of the intellectual spectrum.”
He added that Levi’s interest was not in money but ensuring that the estimated 10,000 to 12,000 highly gifted children in the state remain stimulated and functional. Some studies estimate that as much as 30% of minors incarcerated in juvenile hall are highly gifted, he remarked.
“As the old saying goes, idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” the lawyer said. “You take kids like this who are highly gifted and it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re getting in trouble, because they simply don’t fit in a normal environment—and I’m not afraid to say that I was one of those kids.”
Ackerman said by the time he was in grades 3-5, he was already scoring at the 12th grade, 9th month level in core topics on state aptitude tests. He was completely bored by the time he got to middle school and dropped out in the first semester of high school.
“It’s actually $4,000 cheaper to send Clancy to UCLA than it is to send him to an LAUSD school,” he pointed out. “Taxpayers have already paid for his education so it’s not like there’s a net loss to the state by paying for this.”
The department’s counsel did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
The case is Levi v. O’Connell, 06 S.O.S. 5394.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company