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What the Endrew F. Supreme Court Case Means for Public Education

Endrew F. is a student with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He attended public school from preschool to the fourth grade. During those years, Endrew, or Drew, received education services for students with disabilities, including an individualized education program (IEP). An IEP is federally mandated through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and provides a specific plan for Drew to achieve educational outcomes as defined by his parents, his teachers – both general and special educators – a school district representative, and any other necessary experts. Drew wasn’t achieving the educational success as determined by his parents. Year after year, Drew’s IEPs repeated or abandoned his goals. After declining Drew’s fifth grade IEP and seeing too many years of limited to no progress, Drew’s parents placed him in private school. In private school, Drew flourished. He was showing the results his parents expected from their son all along.

What Could Drew’s Parents Do?

IDEA federally requires a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for all students with disabilities. Drew’s parents didn’t believe his public school provided Drew appropriate education so they sued the public-school district for Drew’s private school tuition and related expenses. The lower court sided with the school district, siting court precedent, and determined that the public-school district did not violate IDEA. This ruling was challenged at the Supreme Court level in the case, “Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District”. The issue, or question, raised by the Supreme Court was: “What is the level of educational benefits that school districts must give to children with disabilities in order to provide them with the “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?”

What Was the Supreme Court’s Decision?

In an incredible, unanimous 8-0 ruling, the Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s ruling. Chief Justice Roberts said, “It cannot be the case that [IDEA] typically aims for grade-level advancement for children with disabilities who can be educated in the regular classroom, but is satisfied with barely more than de minimis progress for those who cannot. When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing merely more than de minimis progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all. For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to ‘sitting idly … awaiting the time when they were old enough to ‘drop out.’ … The IDEA demands more. It requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

So…What Does This All Mean for Students with Disabilities?

The Supreme Court raised the educational bar of expectations for students with disabilities. “De minimis progress”, or doing the bare minimum for children with disabilities, is acceptable no longer. In 2013-14, per the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of students served under IDEA is 6.5 million, or 13% of public school enrollment. This ruling sets a legal precedent that millions of students deserve an “appropriately ambitious” education. For this to occur, public schools must make sure that all school staff understand IDEA and FAPE. All school staff — administrators, general education teachers, special education teachers, and paraprofessionals — must understand how to create and implement an effective and ambitious IEP. All school staff must have the tools and professional development necessary to create an inclusive classroom where all students, including students with disabilities, can meet their educational goals. Is your classroom prepared?

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