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A roundup of elder law news and practice development articles culled from news sources around the nation during the week of November 23 2021, to November 29, 2021.READ MORE
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FROM THE KNOWLEDGE BANK
In a case that is certain to have a widely-felt impact on education for children with disabilities, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the matter of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District sometime in its current term. In hearing Endrew, the justices will decide the level of educational benefit that public schools must confer in order to provide a “free appropriate public education” to disabled children under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Is it enough to develop an individualized education program (IEP) that is designed to provide a “just-above-trivial” educational benefit? Or must schools provide a substantial or “meaningful educational benefit” to their students with disabilities? Both standards have been applied in different jurisdictions, creating vastly different educational experiences for students covered by IDEA. The Court’s decision is expected to clearly state the educational standard that IDEA demands from public schools.
A uniform application of the law is long overdue. Since first enacted in 1975, IDEA’s vague mandate was addressed by the Court in Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley 458 U. S. 176, 179 (1982) , and in two subsequent amendments enacted by Congress, all failing to provide parents and educators with clarity about their rights and responsibilities under IDEA. The federal appeals courts have further muddied the matter with a divided approach to reviewing the adequacy of IEPs pursuant to the IDEA.
The disagreement between the federal courts has left the quality of educational benefit that a child with disabilities receives dependent upon the school district in which she resides. This discrepancy in educational standards forces many families to confront serious emotional and practical challenges when trying to provide their children with an adequate education.
In this matter, Endrew, diagnosed with autism, attended public school through fourth grade and received an IEP for each year that he was there. By the time he was about to enter fifth grade, with worsening behavioral problems and a proposed IEP that was demonstrably ineffective, his parents placed him in a private school that specialized in educating children with autism. Denial of the parents’ application for tuition reimbursement was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which held that “Drew’s IEP was ‘substantively adequate’ because he had made just-above-trivial academic progress.”
Endrew’s parents argue that the proper standard for assessing an IEP is whether it is designed to confer a substantial educational benefit to the child with disabilities, a higher standard than that applied by the circuit court. The U.S. Solicitor General joined in support of Endrew’s petition, arguing that the Tenth Circuit’s holding is inconsistent with the purpose of IDEA and deprives children with disabilities the benefits that they are granted by law. The school district argues that precedent established by Rowley requires only that a child receive more than a de minimis educational benefit.
With approximately 6.5 million IEPs created each year, the Court’s decision will surely change the delivery of special education when it is handed down sometime next year.