March 23, 2017, WASHINGTON, DC — The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) applauds yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of a special education student in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. “We are pleased that the Court has explicitly rejected the inadequate Tenth Circuit standard defining the education to which a student with disabilities is entitled,” said President and Executive Director Kristen Clarke. “In no uncertain terms, a school must offer an individualized education plan reasonably calculated to enable students with disabilities to make progress in light of that child’s unique circumstances. An educational program which offers de minimis progress from year to year is not an education; in rejecting the reasoning of the lower courts, the opinion in Endrew F. demonstrates a recognition by the Supreme Court that schools must make a reasonable effort to help children with disabilities on an individualized basis.”
In Endrew F., the parents of a child with autism rejected an educational plan for their son substantially similar to an earlier one which had failed to produce meaningful progress toward their son’s academic goals and objectives. The behavioral issues associated with Endrew’s disability interfered with his ability to access learning in the classroom. After four years in the public school system, the parents concluded that their son’s lack of academic and functional progress required a completely new program that the district was unwilling to offer. They enrolled him in a private program specializing in autism and within months, Endrew’s behavior significantly improved, allowing him to made academic progress. An administrative hearing officer, the district court and the Tenth Circuit denied the family’s efforts to seek reimbursement for his private school program.
The Supreme Court rejected the proposition that that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees a particular educational outcome for any child, but still established that schools must aim to enable a child to make academic progress, which in many instances will involve progressing from grade to grade. A child’s educational program must be “appropriately ambitious” and allow every child to meet challenging learning objectives. “This is an important victory for parents and advocates committed to ensuring a meaningful education for our students with disabilities,” stated Brenda Shum, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee. “As the Court reiterated, for children with disabilities, instruction that aims so low is tantamount to waiting for students to fail or drop out of school. Our children deserve more, and the law guarantees more. We will continue to work with schools and districts to identify successful strategies to support students with disabilities and to hold them accountable to this higher standard.”