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(1.17) What is the Endrew F. Supreme Court case? Why is it an important special education decision?

(1.17) What is the Endrew F. Supreme Court case? Why is it an important special education decision?

Endrew F. refers to a 2017 Supreme Court decision that clarified the standard of a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) under the IDEA.  The full name of the case is Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, 137 S. Ct. 988 (U.S. 2017).

The case involved a child with autism, Endrew, who was enrolled in a public school in Colorado from pre-school to fourth grade.  Even though he had a new individualized education program (IEP) every year, the IEPs were substantially similar in goals and services.  Endrew was not making educational or functional progress.

When the District developed an IEP for Endrew’s fifth grade school year, the IEP offered as FAPE was, again, similar to his previous IEPs.  This time, his parents rejected the offer and removed Endrew from public schools. They placed him in a school for children with autism. He began making substantial advances in both his educational achievement and adaptive skills.

Endrew’s parents sought financial reimbursement for the costs of the private school placement by filing for a due process administrative hearing.  They asserted that the new placement was necessary for Endrew to receive FAPE.

The administrative hearing decision found against the parents, concluding that District’s IEP offer was appropriate. The parents appealed to the federal district court, but the court upheld the hearing decision. Next, the parents appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. That appeal was also unsuccessful. The Tenth Circuit ruled that an IEP is adequate under the IDEA if it is calculated to confer some educational benefit that is “merely more than de minimis”. It went on to find that Endrew had not been denied a FAPE because his IEP had been sufficiently constructed to enable him to make some progress, and that was sufficient under the standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, 458 U.S.C. 176 (U.S. 1982). Rowley was the first case in which the Supreme Court ruled on an IDEA matter.

Endrew’s parents took their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a landmark decision, the high court agreed with Endrew’s parents. The Court emphatically rejected the Tenth Circuit’s standard stating that an educational program providing a child “merely more than de minimis” progress from year to year can “hardly be said to have been offered an education at all”. According to the Court, the correct standard of FAPE is whether a school district has presented “an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances”. The Supreme Court noted that the IDEA aims to educate students at all ends of the disability spectrum and, thus, appropriate progress is dependent on the particular circumstances of the student, their current functioning, and specific educational needs. However, the child must have an opportunity to meet challenging and ambitious goals through her IEP. [See Endrew F. 137 S. Ct. at 990.]