LDA joined with the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) and 42 other national organizations to file an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief in the Supreme Court case Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. This case was the first reexamination of the “free appropriate public education” standard by the Supreme Court since the Rowley decision in 1982. Under the earlier case, the Court held that a child received a FAPE when the services provided to her “confer some educational benefit,” and this has consistently been the standard since that decision.
The 10th Circuit which heard Endrew below applied a FAPE standard of “merely more than de minimis.” In contrast, the parents argued the IDEA requires students be provided educational opportunities “substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities.” The Supreme Court ultimately rejected both, holding that “[t]o 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.”
Attorneys in the NDRN brief stated that “the amendments to the statute since Rowley have decisively answered the Court’s concern that the IDEA did not set forth a substantive rule governing the education that students with disabilities must receive. Those amendments incorporate the IDEA into the federal statutory policy of standards-based education for all children. They make clear that a school district’s educational interventions must seek to enable a child with a disability to meet the standards the district applies to all children, at least absent a specific justification tied to the unique needs of the child. Congress’s move to standards-based education, combined with the specific language of the amendments to the IDEA, make the Tenth Circuit’s merely-more-than-de-minimis standard untenable”
In the Endrew decision, the Court addressed this issue, stating that, for students not fully included in the regular education classroom and not able to achieve on grade level, the “IEP need not aim for grade-level advancement if that is not a reasonable prospect. But that child’s educational program 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.”
Once again, however, the Court declined to further define FAPE, noting that, through several reauthorizations of the IDEA, Congress has declined to change the FAPE definition. In fact, the Court noted that in Rowley the lower courts “adopted a strikingly similar standard” as presented by the parents in Endrew F., and the Supreme Court rejected it “in clear terms.” The Court states, “Mindful that Congress has not materially changed the statutory definition of a FAPE since Rowley was decided, this Court declines to interpret the FAPE provision in a manner so plainly at odds with the Court’s analysis in that case.”
In summary, the holding in Endrew F. comports generally with current practice, directed by the more stringent statutory requirements for development of an IEP enacted since Rowley. IEPs are developed based on the unique needs of the individual student, and, given the changes to the IEP requirements through several reauthorizations, students are challenged to succeed in the general education curriculum to the greatest extent possible.