Endrew v. Douglas County School District
Today,the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to a case concerning the provision of educational services to a student with special needs. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides federal funds to States that guarantee a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to every eligible child with a disability. The question presented in Endrew v. Douglas County School District is, “What is the level of educational benefit that school districts must confer on children with disabilities to provide them with the free appropriate public education guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?”
Endrew F. is a 15 year old student from Colorado who is autistic and has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. Endrew’s parents struggled to agree with his public school on an appropriate plan for him and later moved Endrew to a private school. Endrew’s parents argued that the public school owed them the cost of Endrew’s private school tuition because it failed to provide FAPE to Endrew. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found that the law only required a de minimis educational benefit, which is to say, a benefit just above the minimum. Endrew’s parents requested certiorari and it was granted.
Before the IDEA was passed in 1975, parents of students with disabilities faced uncertainty about what level of education, if any, might be available to their child in their local public school. Congress aimed to relieve parents of the burden of fighting for their child to receive a basic public education. Because education is a state prerogative governed by local policies and state laws and regulations, Congress offered federal funding as an incentive for states to adopt the mandates of the IDEA. It is this federal funding which is at stake when a school fails to provide FAPE to a student with disabilities.
Although the Court previously partially defined what an “appropriate” education is in the case of Board of Education v. Rowley in 1982, the Court has not revisited the issue and has not provided a full definition. In Rowley, the Court determined that Individualized Education Plans must be “reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits,” but did not elaborate on what “meaningful” might entail.
The Supreme Court has requested input from the United States Department of Education, which responded in an Amicus Brief filed in August. The Department of Education rejects the de minimis standard adopted by the Tenth Circuit. Its brief requests that the variety of standards held across the nation be settled into a single uniform standard: an educational benefit must be “meaningful” and “meaningful” requires a plan with measurable annual goals and the provision of services aimed at helping the child meet those goals.
APSRC’s legal team is following this case and will report as developments occur.
Originally posted to www.apsrc.net Legal Briefs on 9/29/2016, accessed 10/27/17.