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The Supreme Court’s Unanimous Decision in Endrew F. Clarifies that an IEP Must be Reasonably Calculated to Enable a child to make Progress in Light of The Child’s Circumstances.

In the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the Supreme Court provided guidance regarding the adequacy of an IEP for special education students who are not fully integrated in general education classrooms. The Court disagreed with the ruling of the 10th Circuit court and held that the “merely more than de minimis” standard is not sufficient for a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for disabled children who are not fully integrated into the classroom. Rather, a FAPE should aim to enable a disabled child to make “progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”
In the landmark case Rowley v. Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District., which dealt with a student who fully integrated in the regular classroom, the Supreme court held that the IDEA establishes a substantive right to a FAPE for eligible children with disabilities. However, in Rowley, the Supreme court did not establish a standard for determining when disabled children are receiving a sufficient educational benefit to satisfy the requirements of the Act. Generally, an IEP has been deemed satisfactory if it sets out an educational program that is reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefit. For children in the regular classroom, such as Amy Rowley, this could be an IEP calculated to enable the child to progress, from grade to grade. In Endrew F., the Supreme Court explained that in order to meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA for a child not fully integrated in the regular classroom, a school district must offer an IEP that is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances. In other words, an IEP must be tailored to the specific needs of each child and aim to enable the child to make progress, not merely to provide the minimum educational plan that allows the student to make some progress from year to year. The Court explained that this standard is one that will differ from case to case, and an appropriate FAPE will be created based on the expertise and judgment of school authorities, integrating parental opinions and input throughout the process.

The opinion did not establish a standard or test to determine when a FAPE will be considered adequate, but it did make clear that the low bar set in Rowley is not sufficient.  A FAPE must be appropriately ambitious for children that are integrated into the regular classroom, as well as those children who are not.  Although this case does not change the law or provide a definition for the word appropriate, the Court suggests that it will require school districts to adequately measure the child’s current and unique circumstances at the time the IEP is developed and to measure the progress on his or her goals.  Importantly, the Court emphasized the IDEA’s emphasis on collaboration with parents and the need to take into account parental input throughout the IEP development process.  The Court did not completely agree with Endrew F.’s parents, and stated that a FAPE is not required to provide a disabled child with an education that offers equal opportunities to those afforded children without disabilities.

If you would like to discuss this case and its potential implications, or if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call one of our offices.