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The Supreme Court overturned a lower court's ruling in the school district's favor

By: Attorney Rachel Violette

The case involved the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (known as IDEA), a federal law that requires schools to serve the educational needs of eligible students with disabilities. If a child has an Individualized Education Plan, then that child gets services under IDEA.

In the Endrew F. case, the parents and the school disagreed over what constitutes a Free and Appropriate Public Education (known as FAPE), which is what children are entitled to under IDEA and was established by another Supreme Court ruling in 1982.

The family in the Endrew F. case appealed to the Supreme Court because the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Individualized Education Plan offered was similar to those offered in the past which “did not reveal immense educational growth”, but “were sufficient to show a pattern of, at the least, minimal progress,” according to the 10th Circuit Court.

In its decision, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a student offered an educational program providing “merely more than de minimis” 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 . . . awaiting the time when they were old enough to ‘drop out.’” The Supreme Court said the​ ​FAPE​ ​standard​ ​requires​ ​a​ ​school​ ​to​ ​offer​ ​an​ ​Individualized Education Plan​ ​“reasonably​ ​calculated​ ​to​ ​enable​ ​a child​ ​to​ ​make​ ​progress​ ​appropriate​ ​in​ ​light​ ​of​ ​the​ ​child’s​ ​circumstances.”

This decision expands on the FAPE standard enough to affect everyone nationwide, including Maine students, families and schools. It sends a strong message to courts and school districts around the country that low expectations for students with disabilities is not acceptable.

This opinion also clarifies how courts should apply the FAPE standard and explains how courts have not been correctly interpreting the 1982 decision. The Supreme Court said a student’s “educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of [their] circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom. The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”