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Thursday, March 23, 2017

U.S. Supreme Court Clarifies School Districts' Obligation to Provide Free Appropriate Public Education

The United States Supreme Court handed down its decision on March 22, 2017 in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, No. 15-827 (3/22/2017), regarding the standard for determining whether a child has been offered a Free Appropriate Public Education ("FAPE").

In the unanimous (8-0) decision, the Court held that each Individualized Education Program (IEP) must be “reasonable” and must be “reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of his circumstances.”  This holding clarifies, but does not overrule, the standard previously adopted in Board of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (1982), that the IEP must be “reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits.” The school in Endrew had argued that Rowley referred to “some educational benefit” and therefore that the benefits provided must be “merely more than de minimis”; however, the Supreme Court expressly rejected this much-lower standard.

The Endrew Court made clear that there is no bright-line test.  For example, a child who is making passing marks and advancing from grade to grade is not necessarily being given a FAPE.  Similarly, a child who is not making passing marks and advancing from grade to grade is not necessarily being denied a FAPE, because that is not a reasonable expectation for every child. Instead, the IEP must be “appropriately ambitious in light of [the child’s] circumstances.”

Finally, the Court stated that the fact that its decision does not announce a bright-line rule is not an “invitation to the courts to substitute their own notions of sound educational policy for those of the school authorities which they review.”

The foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation and should not be relied on as such.  Please contact one of our labor and employment lawyers if you have any questions.  The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.

This update was prepared by Robert A. Useted and Erin M. Leach.


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