Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1

On January 12, 2017, I posted about a pending U.S. Supreme Court case entitled Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1. In sum, this case involved the Supreme Court interpretation of the IDEA and the Court’s decision in Rowley on the legal standard for reviewing an IEP.  The Court in Endrew F. was asked  to decide is the standard or test for determining whether an IEP conferred educational benefits upon any child covered by the IDEA.    On March 22, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision on this question.

It is important to understand what the court decided in Endrew F.  as well as what the court did not decide in this case.  The Court in Endrew F.  decided not  to create a formula for determining whether an IEP conferred educational benefits on a child covered by the IDEA.  The Court in Endrew F.  rejected that current standard used in Georgia courts and other courts in the country that an IEP only needed to provide trivial or de minimis benefits to the child.  Instead, the Court adopted a standard that requires an educational program (IEP) must be reasonably to calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances. What exactly does this mean? For a child that is fully integrated in a regular classroom the standard may mean the IEP must confer benefits so that the child can advance to grade to grade. But the Court was careful to emphasize that just because the IEP developed for this child confers educational benefits so he or she can advance grade to grade this does not mean the child is automatically receiving a free appropriate public education.  This is till an individualized analysis based on the unique needs of the child. In general, however, a child fully integrated in the regular classroom who is progressing smoothly through the regular education curriculum is expected to advance grade to grade.

If the child is unable to progress smoothly through the regular education curriculum depending on his or her unique educational needs, then the child’s IEP need not aim for grade-level advancement.   But the child’s educational program must still be appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom.  The child’s goals may be different from other children in the classroom, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives. In other words, parents should expect the child’s goals and curriculum to be more challenging each school year.  No longer will it be acceptable to write the same IEP goals and objectives for the child each year.  The IDEA demands more. It requires the IEP be reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.

From this moment on, courts and judges will have to figure out on a case-by-case basis whether the child’s IEP was developed to enable him or her to make progress in view of the circumstances. For example, we should expect a child with an average or above average IQ with a learning disability, to make progress in the regular curriculum.  Parents should no longer accept an IEP that does show their child is making educational progress from year to year.   On the other hand, a child with severe intellectual or other disabilities may be judged somewhat differently.  A child with severe disabilities may not be able to advance grade to grade each year. But this does not mean the child cannot make educational progress.  The type and measure of the progress may different from a regular education child.  It will not be acceptable for this child to have the same IEP goals and objectives each year.   Parents should not accept that their child is making trivial progress.  Parents should expect their child will make progress in light of his or her unique educational needs. Exactly how courts will determine whether the school system developed an IEP for your child that confers progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances  is yet to determined.  You can expect, however, it will be determined a case-by-case basis and that trivial progress will no longer be acceptable.

If you want further analysis and guidance on developing and implementing an IEP for your child after the Court’s decision in Endrew F.  you can contact me or other special education attorney for assistance.