Endrew F. v. Douglas County: IDEA Demands More: Inclusion & Progress In Regular Curriculum; IEP ‘Tailored to Child’s Unique Needs’
On March 22, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in favor of children with special needs and their parents.
Chief Justice Roberts noted that “The broad purpose of the IDEA, an ‘ambitious’ piece of legislation enacted ‘in response to Congress’ perception that a majority of handicapped children in the United States ‘were either totally excluded from schools or were sitting idly in regular classrooms awaiting the time when they were old enough to drop out’…. A substantive standard not focused on student progress would do little to remedy the pervasive and tragic academic stagnation that prompted Congress to act.”
The Court emphasized that full inclusion is the primary standard with the “child progressing smoothly through the regular curriculum.” However, if the child is not fully included, then the school officials must look to the child’s unique needs to develop an IEP which is “pursuing academic and functional advancement.”
The Tenth Circuit held that Endrew’s IEP was “reasonably calculated to enable him to make some progress….Accordingly, he had not been denied a FAPE and concluded that Endrew’s IEP objectives were ‘sufficient to show a pattern of, at the least, minimal progress.’ Because Endrew’s previous IEPs had enabled him to make this sort of progress, the Tenth Circuit court reasoned, his latest, similar IEP was reasonably calculated to do the same thing.
The Tenth Circuit “acknowledged that Endrew’s performance under past IEPs ‘did not reveal immense educational growth’……..But it concluded that annual modifications to Endrew’s IEP objectives sufficient to show a pattern of, at least, minimal progress.”
“Some” Educational Benefit v. “Meaningful” Educational Benefit
This decision did not fully address these arguments but focused on progress, growth and being “fully integrated.”
Expectation: Most Children will be Fully Integrated and Make Progress in the General Education Curriculum
In defining FAPE for a child who is placed in a setting that is not fully integrated or mainstreamed, the Supreme Court noted that “The ‘reasonably calculated’ reflects a recognition that crafting an appropriate program of education requires a prospective judgment by school officials. The IDEA contemplates that this fact-intensive exercise will be informed not only by the school officials, but also by the input from the child’s parents or guardians.”
Progress: IDEA Demands More
“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.” 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.”
When 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 through the general curriculum.
The decision is clear. Being “fully integrated” and “making progress in the general education curriculum” are the keys. If a child is not fully integrated, the focus shifts even more to the “unique circumstances of the child.”
“IEP Must Enable Child to Make Progress: A Plan for Academic and Functional Advancement”
The IEP must aim to enable a child to make progress. After all, the essential function of an IEP is to set out a plan for pursuing academic and functional advancement.
In the decision, the Court opened with “A FAPE, as IDEA defines it, includes both ‘specially designed instruction’ and ‘related services.’ “Special education” is specially designed instruction….to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability; ‘related services’ are the support services required to assist a child to benefit from that instruction.”