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On December 7, 2017, the United States Department of Education issued a Q&A document to provide information to parents and other stakeholders regarding issues addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District Re-1.  The Court issued a unanimous opinion in Endrew F. on March 17, 2017, which we summarized here. The Department of Education’s Q&A document, much like the Court’s opinion, emphasizes the requirement that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”

Endrew F. addressed implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as it pertains to providing a free and appropriate education (“FAPE”) to students with disabilities. In doing so, the Court focused on the substance of each child’s “centerpiece” to FAPE, the IEP.  Endrew F. made it clear that to confer educational benefit, an IEP must do more than provide more than trivial or “de minimus” educational benefit to a student with a disability.  Rather, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a student to make appropriate progress in light of the child’s “unique circumstances.”

However, parents and educators were left with questions: “What should FAPE look like in my school, and what does appropriate progress mean?” and “How will this new guidance affect my child?”  As such, the Department of Education aims to describe the impact of Endrew F. on the practical requirements of providing FAPE to our students with disabilities.

The Department emphasizes the obligation IEP teams have to individualize a student’s educational programming based on specific present levels of performance, previous rates of progress, specific disability, and potential for growth. This may require school personnel to review their procedural practices and make program modifications to better address individual student needs. Schools may also need to consider whether they are providing adequate supports, resources, and professional development for school personnel to truly enable their students to meet challenging objectives.

Lastly, the Department highlights the fact that Endrew F. has not affected parents’ due process rights, nor has it amended parents’ procedural safeguards under the IDEA.  It is essential that an IEP provides a student with meaningful opportunities to achieve academic, functional, and social-emotional goals and make progress.  However, if parents disagree with an IEP team’s determination of special education and related services appropriate for their child to receive FAPE, they may seek remedies via mediation and due process procedures.

The Department welcomes comments from teachers, administrators, parents, and other stakeholders with additional questions and comments via email to the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) at [email protected].