Kimberly E. West and Christopher D. Holmes are educational policy and administration doctoral students at the University of Georgia. West’s research interests include special education in charter schools. Holmes' interests include the impacts and effectiveness of Title 1 on students and parents in poverty.
In this piece, they discuss the scope and implications of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on special education students.
By Kimberly E. West and Christopher D. Holmes
For parents of disabled children living in Georgia, the name Endrew may not ring a bell. However, if your child has an Individualized Education Plan and receives special education services, Endrew is someone you should know.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Endrew's favor in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (Colorado) case. The decision dramatically increased the rights of special education services for students across the country.
The unanimous 8-0 decision strengthens the "free appropriate public education" provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. The provision addresses the level and quality of educational services or benefit provided to educate students with disabilities adequately. More specifically, students with disabilities must be provided with the same quality in educational opportunities as their nondisabled peers.
The provision ensures students with disabilities receive a uniquely tailored education program as determined by their identified disability and as outlined in their individualized education plan or IEP. The IEP is in place to ensure the child makes adequate progress toward their yearly education goals.
In the opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:
It cannot be the case that the Act [IDEA] typically aims for grade-level advancement for children with disabilities who can be educated in the regular classroom, but is satisfied with barely more than de minimus progress for those who cannot.
When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimus’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all. For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to ‘sitting idly by…awaiting the time when they are old enough drop out.’
The educational bar set for students with disabilities should and must not be set low. So low that it's as if they are not getting an education at all. The law, said Chief Justice Roberts, requires more than the minimal education opportunities for children with disabilities.
Therefore, more must be done to guarantee students with disabilities have access to the highest quality educational opportunities that will allow them to make gains in their learning.
More specifically, the Endrew F. case addresses how much of an educational benefit a child’s IEP must provide. The ruling affects disabled students enrolled in all public schools, whether traditional or charter schools.
For parents and advocates around the country and in Georgia, the ruling is welcome news. With the backing of the court, parents have the power to advocate for better, more high-quality educational services and options for their disabled children.
This is important for parents to consider as they talk with their child’s special education teacher or case manager and during meetings when IEP goals and progress are discussed. It's okay to ask about the quality and level of educational services provided to your child. As your child’s greatest advocate, it's up to you to ask the tough questions and review your child’s IEP.
After reading about the case, you still may be wondering, who is Endrew? Endrew is a boy with autism and attention deficit disorder. He, like many disabled students, was experiencing difficulty in the public-school setting and showed little evidence of progress.
Endrew’s parents withdrew him from public school and enrolled him in a private school where he began to thrive. They felt as though the district didn't do enough and their son was not receiving enough benefit to allow him to make progress. The Douglas County Public School District disagreed.
The legal battle ensued when Endrew’s parents sued the school district to be reimbursed for the private school tuition. The lower courts ruled the Douglas County Public School District had provided Endrew with the minimal educational benefit even though he was not making progress. His parents appealed the decision leading to the case being heard by the Supreme Court.