Supreme Court To Weigh FAPE Mandate
September 29, 2016
By: Michelle Diament
For the first time in more than three decades, the U.S. Supreme Court says it will consider how much educational benefit schools must provide students receiving services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The nation’s high court said Thursday that it will hear arguments in a matter known as Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District.
At issue is the IDEA’s mandate that public schools provide children with disabilities a free appropriate public education, or FAPE.
The case was brought by parents known in court papers as Joseph F. and Jennifer F. who pulled their son with autism out of his Colorado school district and sent him to a private school. They then sought reimbursement from the Douglas County School District arguing that the boy, Drew, was not provided FAPE.
Both a hearing officer and the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado found in favor of the school district, saying that FAPE was provided because the boy received “some” educational benefit.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit agreed prompting the parents to appeal to the Supreme Court, citing differing standards from courts across the country.
“Some courts, including the Tenth Circuit … hold that an IEP satisfies the (IDEA) if it provides a child with a just-above-trivial educational benefit, while others hold that the act requires a heightened educational benefit,” the parents said in their petition to the Supreme Court. “Resolving the conflict among the circuits will ensure that millions of children with disabilities receive a consistent level of education, while providing parents and educators much-needed guidance regarding their rights and obligations.”
The Douglas County School District argued that it would be up to lawmakers to impose a higher standard in asking the high court to decline the case.
The Supreme Court’s decision to take up the matter comes at the urging of the Obama administration. In a brief issued last month, the U.S. solicitor general agreed with the parents that the IDEA requires schools to provide more than minimal benefit to students with disabilities.
“This court should hold that states must provide children with disabilities educational benefits that are meaningful in light of the child’s potential and the IDEA’s stated purposes. Merely aiming for non-trivial progress is not sufficient,” the solicitor general indicated.
The case will mark the first time since 1982 that the Supreme Court has addressed the FAPE mandate.
However, it’s not the only special education matter the high court plans to weigh.
The Supreme Court said this summer that it will hear the case of a Michigan girl with cerebral palsy who sought to bring her service dog to school, which centers on whether families must exhaust their options under the IDEA when they have a dispute with schools before seeking remedies under the Americans with Disabilities Act.