A Supreme Court Win for Students with Disabilities

This case summary was prepared by LRHP intern Eleanor Richardson.

In the recent case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District the U.S. Supreme Court held that a school must offer an individualized education plan (IEP) that is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances in order to meet its substantive obligation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The case arose when the parents of fifth grade student with autism filed suit against their son’s school district after the district failed to provide their son with an appropriate IEP plan designed to meet their child’s individual needs. The child’s IEPs had largely carried over the same basic goals and objectives from one year to the next, indicating that he was failing to make meaningful progress toward his aims. Ultimately, the child’s parents placed him in a private school where his development quickly progressed. After the school district continued to fail to make substantial changes to the proposed IEP plan the parents filed a complaint seeking reimbursement for their child’s private school tuition.

The claim was denied and on appeal the Tenth Circuit affirmed the denial and determined that the child had received a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) because his IEP had been reasonably calculated to enable him to make some progress. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the Tenth Circuit and explained that the essential function of an IEP is to set out a plan for pursuing academic and functional advancement. The new standard ensures that children with disabilities make more than just “de minimis” progress in their educational endeavors. The instruction offered must be specially designed to meet a child’s unique needs, and the child’s educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of the circumstances. The Court went on to state that the goals of children who are fully integrated into the classroom and those who are not may differ, but every child should have a chance to meet challenging objectives.

Read the full decision here.