Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

The issue is: What is the level of educational benefit that school districts must confer on children with disabilities to provide them with the free appropriate public education guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004)

Endrew F. is a student with autism whose parents argued that the boy had not been provided a free appropriate public education, or FAPE, as required by IDEA in the years he attended public school in Douglas County.  His parents therefore enrolled him in a private school, where he did receive a meaningful education — quickly learning math, in particular, and overcoming behavioral problems. The parents then sought reimbursement from the public school district .

Relying on the federal statute, Endrew’s parents asked the Douglas County School District to pay for Endrew’s private schooling.  The district (hearing officer) and the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado both said no. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit concurred determining that the school district had provided FAPE because the boy received “some” educational benefit that was “more than de minimis” during his years in public school, making his education “appropriate,” even if it was not meaningful, and now the family is asking the Supreme Court to weigh in.

“Some courts, including the Tenth Circuit, hold that an IEP satisfies the (IDEA) if it provides a child with a just-above-trivial educational benefit, while others hold that the act requires a heightened educational benefit,” reads the family’s petition to the high court. “Resolving the conflict among the circuits will ensure that millions of children with disabilities receive a consistent level of education, while providing parents and educators much-needed guidance regarding their rights and obligations.”

Supreme Court received case December 22, 2015

Oral Arguments began January 11, 2017

Jeffrey L. Fisher Esq.; on behalf of the petitioner (Endrew); challenges the standard in IDEA, that schools provide instruction and related services to the child that are reasonably calculated to provide “substantially equal educational opportunities”

The standard – “substantially equal educational opportunities”

Neal K. Katyal Esq.; on behalf of respondent (Douglas County) maintains that the standard set in Rowley is understood based on its “unchallenged” interpretation over the past 34 years – that de minimis educational benefit is adequate

The justices’ concern is that de minimis sets the standard too low and seeks to determine what word should be used in the current standard “substantially equal educational opportunities.” The justices posed the question, instead of “equal” what word should replace it?

The case was submitted after oral arguments

Written by: Evandra Catherine, First year doctoral student,

Special Education and Disability Policy RTPA

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