In August 2023, Judge Consuelo Marshall of the United States District Court in Los Angeles ruled that California school districts must provide diverse and inclusive options for students with disabilities during the summer months.

Judge Marshall’s ruling was the outcome of a lawsuit filed in 2020 on behalf of a student with Down syndrome, who attended an inclusive general education classroom in the LAUSD. While he was greatly supported and saw growth throughout the school year, the school district only offered him a segregated summer program that lacked inclusion with his general ed peers. The student’s mother appealed the decision, which reached federal court.

Prior to this ruling, California school districts were not required by law to provide inclusive program options for students with special needs. If a school did not offer a regular summer program, the only option available to students with special needs was often an isolated program that did not offer peer interaction between general education and special education students.

Inclusive educational and social environments are essential to children of all abilities by providing equal access to the curriculum through differentiated instruction, providing the opportunity to develop relationships, and helping to create high expectations and engagement for all students.

Not only do schools lacking inclusive summer programs prevent students with disabilities from engaging with their peers, but they invalidate multiple federal legislations including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which requires schools to place children in the “least restrictive environment,” meaning that all students with disabilities should spend as much time as possible in the general education setting.

Judge Marshall’s ruling applies IDEA’s concept of “least restrictive environment” to summer programs, ensuring that students with disabilities are treated fairly and maintain access to essential skills.