On May 8, 2018, a settlement was announced between the school district and family in the seminal special education case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. Although the settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, the school district’s website disclosed a $1.3 million payment for “judgements against the school district,” payable to the firm representing the student’s family. U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Babcock also issued an order on May 8, 2018, to dismiss the case, which officially ends the case between the district and the family. Neither the family of Endrew nor the district has issued a public comment about the settlement or dismissal of the case.
As reported in our March 2017 issue, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held that “a school must offer an IEP that is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in the light of the child’s circumstances.” More recently, we reported that the trial court reversed its prior ruling in favor of the district and entered judgement, based on the new legal standard, in favor of the parents.
This updated educational benefit standard requires more than “de minimus” growth, and defines required educational benefits be “meaningful.” Endrew is an elementary-aged student, eligible for special education services and supports under the category of autism. He attended public school in Colorado from pre-school through 4th grade, until his parents rejected the district’s IEP proposal for 5th grade and sought a unilateral proposal. The parents argued that the proposed IEP failed to provide for measurable growth for Endrew, as it was nearly identical to the IEP implemented the previous school year. Parents also argued that Endrew’s behavior had significantly deteriorated over time.
The district prevailed in due process, Colorado federal court, and in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Ultimately, the Supreme Court vacated the Tenth Circuit’s decision, articulated a new standard for educational benefit, and remanded the case back to the Tenth Circuit for a decision consistent with the new standard.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Endrew F. impacts school districts, although the depth of that impact is still questionable, particularly in Illinois. Nonetheless, the million dollar plus payment by the district is a stark reminder of the high stakes involved in special education related litigation.