The U.S. Supreme Court today issued a unanimous opinion in the case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, ruling in favor of the parents of a Colorado student with autism who indicated that the district did not meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) thereby, denying him a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr who wrote the opinion said, “when all is said and done, 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.”
On January 11th, the Supreme Court justices heard the case deliberating what the level of educational benefit that school districts must confer on children with disabilities to provide them with the FAPE guaranteed by the IDEA. Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District is focused on a Colorado boy with autism, whose family asked the justices to clarify what education benefits an Individualized Education Program (IEP) must provide. Endrew F. (Drew) was provided an IEP from preschool through 4th grade, where he was a student in Douglas County School District. For 5th grade Drew was enrolled in a private school, after his parents disagreed with the County’s proposed IEP for 5th grade, stating it was too similar to the goals for earlier years. Drew and his parents filed a law suit in federal district court, stating that he has been denied FAPE and seeking tuition reimbursement for his private school, where they say he has “made academic, social, and behavioral progress.” Drew and his parents asked the eight justices to weigh in after the federal district court ruled that the IEP was “substantively adequate” after clarifying that that the educational benefit was “merely more than de minimis.” Douglas County School District counters that a standard desired by the family could potentially escalate the number of court cases. The school district stand behind the court’s decision in Rowley.
CEC Policy and Advocacy staff and several CEC members had the opportunity to sit in on the Supreme Court oral argument and hear the deliberation first hand. The argument preview and the official hearing transcript can be read on the SCOTUSblog.
In delivering the opinion on behalf of a unanimous Court, Justice Roberts said, “a child’s education program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom.” In addition, Roberts stated in the opinion, “the goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.” “This statement is more demanding than the merely more than de minis” test applied by the Tenth Circuit. The Circuit Courts to date have been split in their decisions regarding that “standard” to enable a student to receive educational benefit.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts concluded his written opinion on behalf of the eight justices stating, “The judgement of the United State Courts of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”
Stay tuned to CEC’s Policy Insider blog as we unpack this most significant court decision, since Rowley v. Board of Education (1982).