Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Supreme Court, Endrew, and the Appropriate Education of Students with Disabilities

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Supreme Court, Endrew, and the Appropriate Education of Students with Disabilities

Article excerpt

The Supreme Court's decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 (2017; henceforth, Endrew), interpreting the "appropriate education" requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; 2006), can be analyzed under a variety of theories, but for the readers of Exceptional Children, its meanings relate principally to four of its key concepts. Those concepts are found in the Court's holding that IDEA "requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances" (pp. 14-15). Here, we describe and interpret the four concepts: educational program, reasonably calculated, progress, and child's circumstances. We start by comparing and contrasting Endrew with the Court's earlier appropriate education decision in Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley (1982; henceforth, Rowley). We then address Endrew's four key concepts. We conclude by connecting Endrew to systems capacity development and characterizing Endrew as a narrative about ethics and dignity.

Overview of Rowley and Endrew

Endrew is the Court's second decision interpreting the appropriate education standard in IDEA's "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) requirement. It is best understood, initially, when broadly compared to and contrasted with the Court's previous decision, Rowley (1982).

Overview of Rowley

The issue in Rowley was whether IDEA required a local education agency (LEA) to provide interpreter services to Amy Rowley, who, by receiving a special tutor, hearing aids, and speech therapy, was making educational progress, as evidenced by the fact that she was advancing from grade to grade in a regular classroom. Amy's parents argued that an appropriate education is one that "aims to provide a child... opportunities to achieve academic success, attain self-sufficiency, and contribute to society that are substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities" (notes 24 and 25). The Court rejected this argument and held that IDEA did not require the LEA to provide the interpreter.

Rowley's substantive standard for all students is that a student's individualized education program (IEP) must set out an educational program that is "reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits" (p. 207). The LEA meets that standard when the IEP for students such as Amy Rowley herself is "reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade" (p. 204).

Overview of Endrew

The student. Endrew was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 years old. He attended school in the LEA (Douglas County, Colorado) from preschool through fourth grade. Annually the LEA developed an IEP that addressed his academic and functional needs, but Endrew nonetheless failed to make progress. In his parents' view, his academic and functional progress "had essentially stalled" (p. 7). Accordingly, they enrolled him in a private school where he "did much better" (p. 7). He had a behavioral intervention plan and more "heft" (p. 7) to his academic goals.

The route to the Supreme Court. After failing to persuade the public school to adopt an IEP that would enable their son to have what they considered to be an appropriate education, his parents invoked their right to a due process hearing to recover tuition that they paid to the private school to secure their son's appropriate education. Not prevailing at the due process administrative hearing, they sued in federal district court, again did not prevail, and appealed to the Court of Appeals. There, they met with a particularly offensive interpretation of IDEA: An IEP is adequate as long as it is calculated to confer an "educational benefit that is merely... more than de minimis" (Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, 2015).

On appeal to the Supreme Court as in the lower courts, Endrew's parents argued that his education program did not conform to Rowley's standard of "reasonably calculated to enable [him] to receive educational benefits" (p. …

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