The United States Supreme Court has agreed to decide what standard of education schools must provide to students with disabilities in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. The case involves the core requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that States make available a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to eligible children with disabilities.
Since the Supreme Court first described FAPE over thirty years ago, federal courts have become divided over the level of educational benefit the IDEA demands. Some courts have found that an IEP satisfies the IDEA if it provides a child with a minimal educational benefit, while others have found that the IDEA requires a heightened educational benefit.
In this case, a student sued the school district, alleging that the school district failed to provide him with FAPE. The state administrative law judge and the federal district court rejected that claim on the ground that the student had been able to obtain “some” benefit from his public education. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and found that an IEP must be reasonably calculated to guarantee “some” educational benefit, which it interpreted to be any educational benefit that is “more than de minimis,” The Tenth Circuit acknowledged that “[s]everal circuits [courts] have adopted a higher standard.” However, it expressly rejected those holdings, reasoning that the Supreme Court's decision in Board of Education v. Rowley requires a lower standard.
A ruling is expected to be issued by the Supreme Court in 2017.