The Supreme Court’s Landmark Special Education Decision Explained
Updated: Jul 13, 2021
On March 22, 2017 the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark and unanimous decision in favor of special education students in the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District.
The Court held that for a school to meet its IDEA obligation of providing a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to disabled students, the school must offer an IEP that is “reasonably calculated to enable [a child] to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”
GOOD RIDDANCE TO THE PREVIOUS STANDARD
This decision (finally) rejects the longstanding standard requiring an IEP to confer an “educational benefit [that is] merely…more than de minimis.” This standard effectively only required a school to provide some benefit as opposed to none at all. In practice, the old standard left many students with an IEP that, more often than not, was close to no educational benefit at all.
The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision affirms IDEA’s purpose: providing an “individualized” education program specific to a child’s “unique” needs.
THE NEW STANDARD
Chief Justice Roberts wrote on behalf of the unanimous Court, “an IEP must aim to enable the child to make progress,” and be “appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances.” The decision went on to explain: “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives,” whether or not that child is fully integrated in the regular classroom.
UNDERSTANDING THE BACKGROUND OF ENDREW F. V. DOUGLAS CO.
When Endrew F., a student with autism, was in the fourth grade his parents enrolled him in a private school that specialized in autism. They had sought reimbursement from their school district after becoming dissatisfied with Endrew’s progress.
The school district argued they were not required to pay because, in his prior public school program, Endrew had made “some” educational progress. Attorneys for Endrew and his parents argued that he was entitled to a “meaningful” educational benefit, not just “some” progress.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN MOVING FORWARD?
The Supreme Court’s decision now compels that school districts will be held to a higher standard when developing IEP’s for all students with disabilities. And while the Supreme Court declined to elaborate on what appropriate progress should look like on a case-to-case basis, it emphasized that “the adequacy of a given IEP turns on the unique circumstances of the child for whom it was created.” This is exactly where the focus should be.
Click to see the full text of the Supreme Court’s decision: Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District
The Special Education Law team at McDowell, Posternock, Apell and Detrick is always available to discuss your special education rights and will fight with and for you and your special education student.
Call us at 856-330-6096.