The U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether to grant review in a case about the degree of educational benefit that a special education student should receive under an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to satisfy the requirements of the (IDEA). “Clearly, the Supreme Court should hear this important case, as the requirement that a student receive an educational benefit goes to the heart of the IDEA,” says Marion Walsh. Millions of children around the country certain are entitled to more than “some” educational benefit in public schools and the law should, at a minimum, require meaningful educational benefit.
On May 31, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court asked the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the United States on this question.
The plaintiffs in the case Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 note that currently the “courts of appeal are in disarray” on the matter of what constitutes a “free, appropriate public education,” as required for students with disabilities by IDEA.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that Endrew F., a Colorado student with autism, received a free, appropriate public education from the Douglas County school district because he received “some educational benefit,” and the court thus rejected reimbursement to the parents for the cost of private school. Reasoning that the IDEA is only “designed to provide a floor” of educational quality, the hearing officer determined that the school district had provided Drew with a FAPE. The parents had removed their son from public school after a dispute over the education he received under his IEP in the fifth grade.
In its decision, the appeals court acknowledged that other U.S. courts of appeal have adopted the higher standard of requiring an IEP to deliver a “meaningful educational benefit.” “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit requires this standards and it should be applied uniformly across the country. The standard is still too low,” says Walsh. In requesting review by the Supreme Court, attorneys for Endrew F. argue that the Court should make use of the case to resolve the dispute over this salient issue.
As it has done with many IDEA cases that seem to present an important question, the Supreme Court asked the U.S. Solicitor General to weigh in. The Solicitor General is under no deadline to file the requested brief, and observers say it is unlikely that a response will be filed before the court adjourns for the summer.