The first in a series of posts about special education and school choice after Endrew F.

Endrew F v Douglas County School District

When the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled in the case of Endrew F v Douglas County School District that schools must provide students an education that is “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances,” they caused the ground to shake in the world of special education.

To review the history of the case: The plaintiff is a minor with autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conditions that affect his learning and social abilities. From preschool through fourth grade, Endrew attended schools in the Douglas County School District (District) where he received special-education services, including an individualized education plan (IEP) that was designed to accommodate his needs. Year after year, the District IEP stated the same goals and objectives.

Endrew’s parents rejected the IEP proposed for his fifth grade year because it had not changed. They felt the school was not doing enough and was not listening to their concerns. They placed him in a private school which specifically focused on children with autism. Here, his behavior improved and he made significant academic gains.

Endrew’s parents asked the District for reimbursement for tuition and related expenses under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which permits court-ordered reimbursement if a district violates the requirement for a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) under the IDEA. A federal district court and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the District did not violate the IDEA because it had held to the “de minimis” standard.

The family appealed to the US Supreme Court. The family argued that “de minimis,” or minimum achievement standard did not equal the FAPE standard of “appropriate.” In other words, a “free and appropriate public education” required more than a minimum standard of education for students with disabilities.

In a unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, the court vacated and remanded the judgment of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court held that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to offer an individualized education plan (IEP) that is reasonably calculated to enable a child to progress that is appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances. The court declined to create a uniform rule for determining the adequacy of the IEP, but noted that the adequacy of an IEP would depend on the circumstances of the child for whom the IEP was created. And the Court noted that and IEP must be developed by a team made up of school officials with input from parents or guardians.

This means that in the business of special education for children with disabilities, setting the bar at a minimum level is not acceptable. Education must be appropriate to the individual child. And that decision is reached in a collaborative setting including parents and guardians, as well as school officials.


Next: Endrew F v Douglas County School District, US District Court, Colorado, Judge Lewis T Babcock