On Wednesday, January 11th, the Supreme Court justices heard a case deliberating what the level of educational benefit that school districts must confer on children with disabilities to provide them with the free appropriate public education (FAPE) guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District was 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 stands 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.
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) along with Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) led a bicameral Group of 118 current and former Members of Congress in filing an amicus brief in the case in November 2016, arguing that the statute clearly intended to provide meaningful and material educational benefits to students with disabilities so that they may reach their full potential and live independent lives. In a statement today, Senator Murray said, “I am hopeful that the Court will side with the nearly 6 million students in the United States who receive special education services and preserve Congress’ intent in IDEA.”
The opinion of the Court will take several months to develop. Stay tune to CEC’s Policy Insider Blog for future updates.