Supreme Court Rejects “de minimis” FAPE Standard; Expands and Clarifies Rowley Standard

By March 22, 2017 News No Comments

Today the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, addressing the question of the meaning of a free and appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The Supreme Court held that “to meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”  The court held that the standard to be applied must be more than “merely de minimis,” and that “the adequacy of an IEP turns on the unique circumstances of the child for whom it was created.”

This case concerns a student eligible for special education and related services under the eligibility criteria of autism. The student, Endrew, attended public schools at the Douglas County School District in Castle Rock, Colorado, from preschool through fourth grade. When it came time to plan for Endrew’s fifth grade year, Endrew’s parents rejected the IEP proposed, unilaterally placed Endrew in a private school, and filed for due process. Endrew’s parents argued that the IEP was insufficient because the IEP proposed for fifth grade was nearly identical to the IEP for fourth grade. Further, Endrew’s parents pointed to his severe behavioral deterioration. The hearing officer, the District Court for the District of Colorado, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit all held in the school district’s favor.

The United States Supreme Court vacated the Tenth Circuit decision in favor of the school district and remanded the case back to the Tenth Circuit for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

To this point, the Seventh Circuit, which is controlling in Illinois, has applied “more than de minimis” benefit standard to determine whether a student’s IEP is reasonably calculated to provide a student with a free and appropriate education. Therefore, the standard upon which IEPs are evaluated in federal courts in Illinois will change as a result of the Endrew F. decision. However, we believe that the standard is a reasonable one which school districts, with competent counsel, will have no problem meeting. We note that although the Court rejected the “more than de minimis” standard urged by the school district, it also rejected a more stringent standard put forward by the parents. All in all, we view that this case is a win for all school districts, although it was a “loss” for the Douglas County School District, which on remand may still come out a winner.

For your inquires related to this matter, please contact Stan Eisenhammer and Kaitlin Atlas.

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