On March 22, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District and determined that to meet its obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a school must offer an Individualized Education Program (IEP) “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances." (To read our law firm's previous article regarding this case, please click here).
Here are five "takeaways" from the Supreme Court's decision that will impact South Dakota's public schools.
First, the Supreme Court found that the Rowley case rejected the “equal opportunity” standard adopted by some courts, concluding that Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) was a phrase “too complex to be captured by the word ‘equal’ whether one is speaking of opportunities or services.”
Second, the Supreme Court rejected the school district’s argument that Rowley “conclusively adopted a ‘some educational benefit’ standard when it wrote that ‘the intent of the [IDEA] was more to open the door of public education to handicapped children . . . than to guarantee any particular level of education.’” Rather, the Supreme Court said, “[W]e find little significance in the . . . language concerning the requirement that States provide instruction calculated to 'confer some educational benefit.'" Further, the fact that “the progress contemplated by the IEP must be appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances should come as no surprise" and that a “focus on the particular child is at the core of the IDEA."
Third, the Supreme Court stated, “[w]hen a child is fully integrated in the regular classroom, as the [IDEA] prefers, what that typically means is providing a level of instruction reasonably calculated to permit advancement....” However, in those situations where that is not a reasonable prospect for a student, "the IEP need not aim for grade level advancement” but "must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom.” In sum, "[t]he goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”
Fourth, it is clear that the Rowley standard “is more demanding than the 'merely more than de minimis test." Instead, the IDEA "requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”
Fifth, the Supreme Court added a final word of caution to lower courts, stating, "This absence of a bright-line rule, however, should not be mistaken for an invitation to the courts to substitute their own notions of sound educational policy for those of the school authorities which they review."
So what is the underlying importance of the Endrew F. decision? In a nutshell, Endrew F. now requires South Dakota school districts to provide disabled students with more than merely "de minimis" educational benefits in order to satisfy the IDEA's FAPE requirements, but does not require that they provide "equal opportunity."