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On January 11, 2017, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District case concerning the level of benefit school districts must confer in order to provide students with a free and appropriate public education (“FAPE”).

The student’s lawyers argued in favor of a more stringent standard. Specifically, the student’s lawyers argued that the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) requires school districts “to provide instruction and related services to the child that are reasonably calculated to provide substantially equal educational opportunities.” Endrew’s lawyers went on to explain that “a child’s plan should be tailored to allow her to advance from grade to grade.”

Notably, lawyers for the United States government (i.e., the Solicitor General) argued in support of the student’s position. The Solicitor General argued that the IDEA requires “a program that is aimed at significant educational progress in light of the child’s circumstances.”

Lawyers for the school district argued that the “more than de minimis” standard “has worked and follows naturally from the ‘some benefit’ language in Rowley.” In short, the school districts lawyers expressed that the “more than de minimis” standard should remain and that changing the standard at this juncture would “invite massive amounts of litigation.”

As HLERK previously reported, 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.

Different judicial circuits around the country have taken different positions on what “some educational benefit” means and what it means to provide a student with a FAPE consistent with the IDEA’s mandates. There is a possibility that the Supreme Court will issue a ruling that applies a more uniform standard nationwide.

HLERK will continue to follow this case closely and will report on the Supreme Court’s ultimate decision in this case in future issues of The Extra Mile.

With questions on special education and the meaning of “some educational benefit” in Illinois, please contact Michelle Todd, Jennifer Deutch, Jay Kraning, or Kaitlin Atlas.