Supreme Court Redefines Free Appropriate Public Education for IDEA Eligible Students

In Endrew v. Douglas County School District, the U.S. Supreme court made ripples in the special education world when it rejected the standard that “some educational benefit” that is more than trivial is sufficient to constitute a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for IDEA-eligible students.  137 S.Ct. 988 (2017).  The Court ruled that each child’s educational program must be “appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances” and grant “every child the chance to meet challenging objectives.”  The Endrew case involved an autistic elementary student whose parents withdrew him from public school after noting his IEP included largely unchanged goals from year to year.  Dissatisfied with his progress, the parents placed him in a private school where he made significant gains and sued the public school for tuition reimbursement.

The definition of FAPE announced by the Endrew Court may be interpreted as more rigorous than the previous standard in Minnesota.  Considering this new standard, IEP teams should ensure their records reflect not only “appropriately ambitious” goals for each child, but also the “why” behind them.  School officials should be able to point to documentation that clearly outlines their reasoning for selecting each goal and service.  Including the Court’s terminology, along with justification for why particular goals were chosen could shield schools from complaints brought by dissatisfied parents.  School districts are encouraged to consult their legal counsel with any questions about how the Endrew decision applies to them.

Ratwik Roszak Maloney