VOLUME 9 - 2016-2017 - ISSUE 1
9 Ky. J. Equine, Agric. & Nat. Resources L. 101 (2017).
NOT JUST HORSING AROUND: PROVIDING A FREE AND APPROPRIATE PUBLIC EDUCATION BY DEEMING HIPPOTHERAPY TO BE THE “BASIC FLOOR OF OPPORTUNITY” FOR CHILDREN WITH CEREBRAL PALSY
Note Written By: Elizabeth A. Beal
The Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004 (“IDEA”) was created to “ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a Free and Appropriate Public Education” (“FAPE”). In Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, the Supreme Court of the United States interpreted IDEA as requiring school districts to only provide children with disabilities a “basic floor of opportunity,” or services with “some meaningful benefit” rather than services with maximum benefit. As previously noted, courts have generally refused to support hippotherapy as a part of a child’s IEP, deeming it unnecessary in providing some meaningful benefit to a child’s education. In doing so, school districts and courts are inappropriately denying students with cerebral palsy the therapy they so desperately need, and, further, failing to meet the “basic floor of opportunity” standard that was Congress’s original objective under IDEA. The studies that will be discussed in this Note yield convincing evidence of the effectiveness of hippotherapy in children with cerebral palsy – benefits that are not derived from more traditional therapy methods such as school-based speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. If Congress’s goal under IDEA is to “ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living,” then school districts are falling.
First, this Note will briefly discuss the background of this issue, including a discussion of person-first language, cerebral palsy in general, and the specific postural challenges children with cerebral palsy often face. Second, we will explore the Individuals with Disabilities Act, and what is meant by a free and appropriate education (FAPE) under the Act. Next, I will introduce hippotherapy as a speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy resource, and distinguish the therapy method from its well-known cousin, therapeutic horseback riding. The fourth part of this Note will examine and discuss a selection of the abundance of studies regarding hippotherapy and its benefits regarding children with cerebral palsy, as well as benefits to children with other disabilities. The argument and conclusion that hippotherapy provides a true meaningful benefit to children with cerebral palsy and, therefore, should not be excluded under the Rowley “some meaningful benefit” standard will be presented in the final part of this Note, as well as an argument about financial feasibility.