Parents of students with disabilities may be rethinking their child’s educational plan after a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on IDEA. In Endrew F., et al. v. Douglas County School District (No. 15-827), the Court ruled that students are entitled to an IEP that is “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

At issue in Endrew was the level of educational benefit that public schools must provide to students under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The Act guarantees children with disabilities a “free appropriate public education.”  The Act does not, however, say what is an appropriate level of progress.

Case History

The case revolved around Colorado parents who took their son, Endrew, out of public school because they felt he was not making adequate progress under the individualized education plan (IEP).  The parents enrolled Endrew in private school, where he made better progress. They then sued the school district to pay the cost of his private school.

The school district refused to pay.  They contended that as long as Endrew was making some progress in the public school, his IEP was sufficient.  Endrew’s parents appealed that decision.  They argued that the district should provide a substantial and meaningful educational benefit to a child with a disability.  Jeffrey Fisher, attorney for Endrew, said that IDEA requires schools to provide an “equal educational opportunity” for children with disabilities, or an “equally challenging curriculum on the academic side” to meet their functional and developmental goals.

Legal Battle

The parents lost at every level of appeal, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruling that instruction and services furnished to children with disabilities need only confer “some educational benefit.”

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the parents’ appeal. Finally, on March 22, it unanimously overturned the lower court and ruled in the parents’ favor.

Supreme Court Ruling on IDEA

“When all is said and done,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all.”

IDEA demands more of schools, Roberts said. “It requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

Advocates hoped this case would define the educational benefit required by IDEA, but the Court declined to go that far.  While ruling that minimal educational progress is insufficient, the Court stopped short of clearly defining what “appropriate” really means.  “We will not attempt to elaborate on what ‘appropriate’ progress will look like from case to case,” Roberts wrote.

The Supreme Court ruling on IDEA is now law in all state and federal courts. States may try to delay following this new requirement, but they risk litigation if they do so.

To read the Court’s ruling, click here.

For an analysis of the ruling by the website JDSupra, click here.

Revised and published with permission from the American Society of Special Needs Planners.

Supreme Court Ruling on IDEA

U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on IDEA Requires More Than “Some” Educational Benefit
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