In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court of the United States held that School Districts “must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances” in order to meet its obligations under the IDEA. In Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the Court was presented with the question of what level of benefit is required when determining if a school district offered a student a FAPE. This decision could affect the education of the U.S.’s millions of children with disabilities.
The case involved a student with autism who attended a public school in the Douglas County School District up until the fourth grade. During this time, the student was services under annual IEPs, which Endrew’s parents believe to be similar yar after year. Yet, according to the parents, Endrew’s academic and functional progress had hit a stand still. For Endrew’s fifth grade year, his parents enrolled him a specialized private school, where Endrew finally made significant progress. While Douglas County developed an IEP for his fifth grade year, Endrew’s parents believed that this IEP was also the same as the previous years’ IEPs. The parents sought reimbursement for Endrew’s private school tuition by filing a due process complaint under the IDEA, alleging that the school district denied Endrew a FAPE. Endrew’s parents argued that Douglas County was required to provide Endrew with special education services which would provide him with the same opportunities that are “substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities.” However, this claim was denied. On appeal, a Federal District court, and subsequently the Tenth Circuit, affirmed this decision. The Tenth Circuit ruled that a child’s IEP is adequate so long as it is calculated to confer an “educational benefit [that is] merely…more than de minimis.” The Supreme Court overturned this decision.
Prior to the Endrew decision, the level of benefit students received under the IDEA depended on what standard of FAPE your school district subscribed to. School districts where courts subscribed to the “merely more than de minimis,” were found to have provided students with FAPE, so long as the student received some benefit. In stark contrast, other courts (such as the Second Circuit) required a higher standard, finding that school districts were required to show that a student received meaningful educational benefit in order to meet their FAPE obligation.
In an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court brought clarity to this issue, setting a single standard for all school districts and parents. The Court stated a “child’s educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances.” While the goals for each child will differ, “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.” This is clearly a higher standard than “merely more than de minimis” - and a win for parents and children across the country.