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On March 22, 2017, the Supreme Court decided Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, a dispute involving the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which in exchange for federal funding requires that states provide a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to disabled children by means of a tailored “individualized education program” (IEP). In its 1982 decision Board of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist., Westchester County. v. Rowley (Rowley), the Supreme Court indicated that the FAPE requirement is satisfied when an IEP is “reasonably calculated to enable the [disabled] child to receive educational benefits.”
Endrew F. is a student with autism who received annual IEPs from the Douglas County School District from preschool through the fourth grade. At that point, however, his parents felt his progress to be stagnating, and when the school district proposed a similar IEP for the fifth grade, Endrew’s parents moved him to a specialized private school where he made significant progress. School district officials thereafter presented Endrew’s parents with a revised IEP, but the parents considered it little better than the previous version. The parents sought reimbursement of private school tuition costs by filing an IDEA complaint with the Colorado Department of Education. Their claim was denied, however, and the denial was affirmed by both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The Tenth Circuit concluded that under Rowley, the FAPE requirement was satisfied so long as the IEP conferred more than a minimal educational benefit.
By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the Tenth Circuit and remanded the case. Writing for a unanimous Court, Chief Justice Roberts indicated that to meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances,” a more demanding standard than the Tenth Circuit’s de minimis one. The Court then remanded the case for further proceedings under the corrected standard.
To discuss the case, we have Daniel Woodring, principal at Woodring Law Firm.