“Cohen vs. School District”: Legal and Ethical Analysis

Subject: Law
Pages: 5
Words: 1422
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Study level: PhD


The case, Cohen vs. School District (1992), focuses on the placement of disabled students in mainstream education settings and the tort of negligence. A special education student was placed in a mainstream setting without appropriate supervision despite having some recognized violent tendencies. The student later attacked another normal student without provocation, leading to a suit in a federal district court in Pennsylvania. The main agenda of the case involved the school’s negligence in supervising the activities of the disabled student. Additionally, the plaintiff considered the district school guilty of failing to provide a standard of care to all its students.

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According to Berry (2011), schools have to provide appropriate and adequate care to students. In Ferraro vs. Board of Education of the City of New York (1961), the court maintained that district schools have a duty of care especially when there are foreseeable intentions to injure or engage in violent behaviors from one of the students. However, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) emphasizes the placement of disabled schools in mainstream environments. In fact, IDEA considers it illegal to discriminate against mainstreaming disabled students unless there is a significant cause to separate the students. Nonetheless, the separation is also governed by other rules that compel the school to initiate an individualized education program (IEP), which must be scrutinized by the relevant agencies and the parents.

Type of Action

The federal court relied on the constitution and the duties of district schools in providing adequate care to the students. The court referred to Garret’s responsibility clause of educating all students equally irrespective of their disabilities (Alquraini & Gut, 2012). In the court’s arguments, the district school had not committed any offense by mainstreaming the disabled student. In fact, they attested to the rights of the disabled in accessing equal facilities with the normal students. The court maintained that all disabled students had the right to share educational facilities with normal students. Additionally, IDEA expected all schools to offer the best services to disabled students in the least restrictive environments. When the disabled student attacked one of the students in the district school, the parents of the victim became the plaintiffs in the case. They sued the school for not providing adequate supervision and protection against potential attacks. The parents claimed that the school foresaw the threat but failed to take adequate measures to protect other students against disabled and violent students.


When the disabled student was admitted to the school, the teachers realized that the student had some significant learning disabilities. Additionally, the prosecution noted that the school had taken note of the student’s behavior problems and violent tendencies. However, the defendants claimed that they were bound by the IDEA specifications of placing disabled students in mainstream environments. The defendants argued that the mainstreaming decision adhered to the placement policies of disabled students.


The district court affirmed the innocence of the school in placing disabled students in the mainstream environment. It observed the innocence of the district school in placing the child in the general education environment. The court did not find any offense in placing the child in a mainstream learning environment because IDEA emphasized providing the best non-discriminating care to the at-risk group (Yell, Katsiyannis, & Bradley, 2011). However, the court evoked the duty of the district school of providing adequate care to the students. The court found the school liable for the tort of negligence by failing to take appropriate actions against foreseeable violence from the disabled child. The court maintained that schools had the obligation of assessing the safety situations of students by observing foreseeable threats in the school. The school was found guilty of neglecting the responsibilities of care despite identifying learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and recognizable violent tendencies in the disabled student.

Analysis and Conclusion

According to Vitello and Mithaug (2013), ethical, legal, and professional issues emerge over the placement of disabled children in general education settings. The research focuses on the lack of available options for disabled children. Vickerman and Blundell (2010) state that most disabled students do not access appropriate learning resources and environments. The students are discriminated against because of their behavioral, physical, or academic deficiencies. However, IDEA provides appropriate guidelines on the placement of such students by evoking equality clauses that do not discriminate against any deficiency. In fact, the policy advocates for equal representation and the provision of equal opportunities for disabled students. Additionally, IDEA expects every school to offer the least intrusive environments to disabled children. The clause compels district schools to expand their resources and facilities towards the interests of all students. Whereas supervision is a safety measure, it can be interpreted as an intrusive strategy because it interferes with the social and normal interactions of the student (Daggett, 2013). Students who are under supervision do not carry out their normal activities because they are under the scrutiny of the supervision teams.

Amidst the calls for the equal placement of students in mainstream environments, there is a need to focus on the duty of care among district schools. In the court’s decision, the school was found to have breached its responsibility clause by failing to monitor the activities of the disabled student. The school had already compiled its reports on the violent tendencies of disabled students among their peers. The school should have concentrated on the significance of the student’s actions towards its peers. The teachers erred in establishing a supervision program for the student. Additionally, IDEA proposes the introduction of health interventions in the daily activities of at-risk students. Disabled students must be subjected to regular assessments to enhance their capabilities of engaging in normal academic operations.

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According to Fitzgerald (2012), most of the parents of disabled children do not have adequate information about the appropriate placements for their children. According to Rothstein (2014), disabled students should be under the responsibility of schools because they pose risks to other students. Despite the existence of IDEA’s clause on equal placement, normal students are at risk of attack. According to Smith (2011), some disabled students have been victims of attacks. The researcher reported a significant correlation between the health and psychological status of the children and the tendencies to engage in violent activities.

Teachers face some of the most challenging policies of placing disabled children in mainstream structures. Whereas the government supports a nondiscriminatory placement of disabled children in generalized environments, and it evokes the duty of care expected from the district schools. The school is expected to have realized the implications of allowing disabled students to operate within the mainstream environment.

According to Blecker and Boakes (2010), teachers have the mandate of taking care of their students. However, they should be advised of their legal rights to understand the implications of mainstreaming disabled children without interfering with the regulations set by IDEA. Every student has the right of attending regular classes irrespective of disabilities. However, the district schools should establish special lessons for the normal students to manage the interactions and social engagements. Additionally, the IDEA’s specifications are very costly especially when dealing with students in need of a regular medical checkup. Despite the challenges, virtual ethics stresses the importance of adhering to morals and values. Every teacher should take the mandate of protecting all the students irrespective of their disabilities. In Cohen’s case, the teachers did not adhere to the duty of care. The district school did not respond appropriately to the foreseeable threat to the disabled student.

McLeskey, Landers, Williamson, and Hoppey (2012) argue that every school should focus on the interests of the student by providing favorable environments and essential relationships. Every student should be protected from any potential threat without interfering with personal freedom. IDEA rules do not restrict any student’s freedom because of disability unless there are professional guidelines of restriction.


In conclusion, the district school neglected its duty of care by failing to monitor the activities of the disabled student. Although it adhered to IDEA’s policies of placement, it failed to supervise the student’s activities. The injured student had the right to adequate care from the institution. The teachers had identified foreseeable instances of violence and irrational judgments from the student. However, they failed to exercise their mandates of caring for the rest of the students. Although there are ethical dilemmas in mainstreaming disabled students, schools have the responsibility of protecting the interests of all students against potential threats. IDEA’s policies should be applied to disabled students while the duty of care should be provided to all students.


Alquraini, T., & Gut, D. (2012). Critical Components of Successful Inclusion of Students with Severe Disabilities: Literature Review. International Journal of Special Education, 27(1), 42-59.

Berry, R. A. (2011). Voices of experience: general education teachers on teaching students with disabilities. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 15(6), 627-648.

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Blecker, N. S., & Boakes, N. J. (2010). Creating a learning environment for all children: are teachers able and willing? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 14(5), 435-447.

Cohen v. School District, 18 IDELR 911 (1992).

Daggett, L. M. (2013). Reasonable Supervision in the City: Enhancing the Safety of Students with Disabilities in Urban (and Other) Schools. Fordham Urb. LJ, 41, 499.

Ferraro V. Board of Education of the City of New York 14 A.D.2d 815 (1961).

Fitzgerald, H. (2012). ‘Drawing’ on disabled students’ experiences of physical education and stakeholder responses. Sport, Education and Society, 17(4), 443-462.

McLeskey, J., Landers, E., Williamson, P., & Hoppey, D. (2012). Are we moving toward educating students with disabilities in less restrictive settings?. The Journal of Special Education, 46(3), 131-140.

Rothstein, L. (2014). Disability Discrimination Statutes or Tort Law: Which Provides the Best Means to Ensure an Accessible Environment?. Ohio State Law Journal, 75(6).

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Smith, B. (2011). Fighting Back: How Students with Disabilities Can Hold Schools Liable for Peer-Inflicted Injuries. Valparaiso University Law Review, 45(2), 741-791.

Vickerman, P., & Blundell, M. (2010). Hearing the voices of disabled students in higher education. Disability & Society, 25(1), 21-32.

Vitello, S. J., & Mithaug, D. E. (2013). Inclusive schooling: National and international perspectives. New York, NY: Routledge.

Yell, M., Katsiyannis, A., & Bradley, M. (2011). The individuals with disabilities education act. Handbook of special education, 61-76.