FAPE Obligation Under IDEA
On March 22, 2017, the United States Supreme Court decided Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, (2017)1 in Vermont in which the Court unanimously held that in order for a district to meet its free and appropriate public education (FAPE) obligation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)2, it must "offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances." This memorandum is intended to assist administrators and special education staff to understand what is required by this decision.
The Court's decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District holds that in order for a district to meet its FAPE obligation under the IDEA, it must, "offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances." The decision also emphasized that a student's goals need to be ambitious even when those goals don't aspire to grade-level advancement in a general education classroom. The Court rejected the Tenth Circuit’s reading of Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, (U.S. 1982), that FAPE is met if an educational program provides "merely more than de minimis" benefit.
The Court also rejected the parents’ position that a free appropriate education is “an education that aims to provide a child with disabilities opportunities to achieve academic success, attain self-sufficiency and contribute to society that are substantially equal to the opportunities afforded the children without disabilities.
Rather, the decision acknowledges that when a child is fully integrated into the classroom, as the Act prefers, what IDEA typically requires is providing a level of instruction reasonably calculated to permit advancement through the general curriculum. Thus, for most children, a free appropriate education will involve integration in the regular classroom and individualized special education calculated to achieve advancement grade to grade. But given the child-focused aims of the Act, a different approach may be required for children who are not are fully integrated into the classroom.
The Court did not elaborate on what “appropriate” progress will look like from case to case, noting that adequacy of a given IEP will depend upon the unique circumstances of the child for whom it was created. It merely said that after the IEP process, which ensures parents and school representatives the opportunity to fully present their respective opinions on the degree of progress a child’s IEP should pursue, “a reviewing court may fairly expect those authorities to be able to offer a cogent and responsive explanation for their decisions that shows the IEP is reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of his circumstances.” The standard for reviewing the IEP continues to be whether it is reasonable, not whether it is ideal.
Read the full FAPE Obligations Under IDEA memo.