In a broader sense, the issue argued at the Court was the level of educational benefit school districts must provide to children with disabilities to ensure they are receiving the "free appropriate public education" guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This is the first time that a major case on the meaning of FAPE has been heard by the Court since Rowley v. Board of Ed. (1982), which established that an IEP should provide "some educational benefit" and a reasonable amount of support, but not the best or most support available to a student. Since that time, IDEA legislation has surpassed the standard the Rowley case established. The most recent legislation calls for students with IEPs to have challenging academic standards and to have IEPs designed for the student to "make progress in the general education curriculum."
During the arguments of the Endrew F. case, it appeared likely that the Court would not mandate school districts be held financially responsible for parents' choices to enroll students in private institutions. The attorney for the Douglas County School District side argued that the current FAPE standard is acceptable and that a Supreme Court decision in favor of a much higher standard would "invite massive amounts of litigation" from parents. The attorney for Endrew F.'s side stated that IEPs should "be tailored (for students) to achieve a general educational curriculum at grade level" or "alternative benchmarks that are the highest possible achievable by the student." Justices in the case seemed to favor the language closer to current IDEA legislation requiring a program "aimed at significant educational progress in light of the child's circumstances." The arguments of the case and the Justice's inquiries show that the impact of the Court's decision will most likely be to unify the language and standards from previous Court cases and IDEA legislation to deliver a clearer definition of "free and appropriate public education."
The Supreme Court decision is expected this spring or summer. Following tradition, recent Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch is not expected to take part in a decision of a case previously argued should he be confirmed.
More information on the case can be found here:
- Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (Bazelon Center for Mental Health)
- Justices grapple with proper standard for measuring educational benefits for children with disabilities (SCOTUS Blog)
- Endrew F v Douglas County School District No 15 827 (Scribd)
Alan Ellis, Academic Intervention Specialist