The Benefits of the New Supreme Court Decision for Students with IEPs

Ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States regarding the Individuals with Disabilities Act and the definition of a "free, appropriate public education".

You may have heard about the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the recent Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District case and been wondering what the implications are for students with IEPs.  The case is of particular interest to parents and educators, as it examines what is covered by IDEA and what is meant by a “free, appropriate public education” (FAPE).  

The Court states:

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) offers States federal funds to assist in educating children with disabilities. The Act conditions that funding on compliance with certain statutory requirements, including the requirement that States provide every eligible child a “free appropriate public education,” or FAPE, by means of a uniquely tailored “individualized education program,” or IEP.

Endrew’s Story

This particular case involved a boy named Endrew with Autism who received IEP services from the Douglas County School District (Colorado) from preschool through 3rd grade.  By 4th grade his parents were concerned that he was not making adequate academic and functional progress, and in the 5th grade they moved him to a private specialized school, where he made significant progress.  Endrew’s parents then sought reimbursement for private school tuition, on the grounds that the school district had failed to provide Endrew with a FAPE, but they were denied.

The Supreme Court Ruling

The Supreme Court determined that Endrew’s “making some progress,” found acceptable by the lower courts, was not “reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits”.  The opinion states, “A child’s IEP need not aim for grade-level advancement if that is not a reasonable prospect. But that child’s educational 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. The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.

The Court held that:  “To meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

Read the full text of the Supreme Court decision.

See also New Supreme Court Decision Benefits Students With IEPs.