Legal Updates


DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ISSUES NEW GUIDANCE INTERPRETING THE SUPREME COURT’S ENDREW F. HOLDING

December 19, 2017

On March 22, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County Sch. Dist, 137 S. Ct. 988 (2017), holding that an individualized education program (IEP) must be “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances” in order to meet a school district’s obligation to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE).  Since the decision, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) has been analyzing the Court’s ruling to consider its impact on the FAPE requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The DOE issued its first guidance document related to the Court’s decision in Endrew F. on December 7, 2017.  Questions and Answers (Q&A) on U.S. Supreme Court Case Decision Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District Re-1, 117 LRP 50044.  The DOE’s new guidance document poses and answers twenty (20) questions regarding the Court’s decision.

Considerations for Implementation

The DOE summarized the Court’s decision and noted that it clarified the IDEA’s substantive FAPE obligation to offer an IEP “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”  The DOE then broke down the various elements of the newly clarified FAPE standard and offered its interpretation of those elements.

The DOE explained that the “reasonably calculated” standard requires prospective judgment by the IEP team to make decisions based on their own expertise, the student’s progress, the student’s potential for growth, and the views of the student’s parents.  The DOE further opined that the IEP team should consider the student’s previous rate of academic progress, the student’s grade-level proficiency, behaviors interfering with the student’s progress, and additional information from the student’s parents.

Regarding interpretation of “progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances” standard, the DOE opined that the essential function of an IEP is to provide meaningful opportunities for advancement and to enable the student’s progress.  The DOE stated that the requirement to provide progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances reflects the individualized focus of the IDEA.  IEP teams must offer “specialized instruction” that is based on the individualized needs of the student.  Further, the DOE emphasized the Court’s holding that individualized decision-making in the IEP process is necessary to ensure that every student has the chance to meet challenging objectives.

For most special education students, the requirement of providing every student with a chance to meet challenging objectives will be based on the same curriculum as for nondisabled students, which is the curriculum based on the State’s academic standards.  However, alignment with State standards cannot replace the requirement for individualized decision making in the IEP process.  The DOE also acknowledged that there is a small number of special education students with the most significant cognitive disabilities whose performance may be measured against alternate academic standards.  However, those standards must continue to be appropriately ambitious.

Finally, the DOE emphasized the importance of well written and clear goals and objectives in student IEPs to ensure that progress is measured and monitored appropriately.  Doing so, will assist parents and educators to determine whether a student is progressing as expected and alert them when IEP revisions are necessary due to a lack of expected progress.

Conclusion

The new guidance provides valuable insight regarding the DOE’s interpretation of the Court’s newly clarified FAPE standard.  The DOE remains focused on individualized decision making when determining specialized instruction that provides FAPE.  The DOE’s guidance emphasizes the responsibilities of IEP teams to provide appropriately ambitious goals for special education students that are typically, but not always, aligned with the State’s academic standards.  It is advisable to review your District’s special education policies and consider additional training for staff that participate in IEP team meetings.

For questions regarding this article, please contact the author, Attorney Chad Wade (email: cwade@strangpatteson.com; telephone: 844.833.0826), or your Strang, Patteson, Renning, Lewis, & Lacy, s.c., attorney.

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