Parents and advocates of children with disabilities have been waiting a long time to hear the words of Chief Justice John Roberts when he said:
When all is said and done, 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.These were the words of a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court in its Opinion handed down this morning in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. This is a huge win for children with disabilities!
How many times have you heard the phrase “some educational benefit?” For many parents that is what they hear schools say to justify their program when a child is magically advancing from grade to grade, in spite of the fact that he is not making progress on his IEP goals or is regressing behaviorally. Many schools will justify repeating IEP goals from year to year, while claiming the child is making educational benefit based on his “passing” grades and advancement. And school attorneys have argued that some is better than none. Well the U.S. Supreme Court is not buying it!
In fact, according to the Supreme Court, setting such a low bar for students is equal to sitting idly by and waiting for them to drop out. Endrew F. is a student with Autism who, like many students, repeated IEP goals year after year because he did not master them and regressed behaviorally, but passed from grade to grade. His parents withdrew him from public school, placed him in a private school, and eventually sought reimbursement from the school district. Unfortunately, the parents met road block after road block before hearing officers and lower courts. It seems they all concluded, as did the school, that under IDEA more than “de minimis” is enough. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the argument that some is better than none and held that under IDEA, a student’s IEP must enable him to make progress appropriate in light of his circumstances. In other words, advancement from grade to grade may be an appropriate measure if a student is in the regular classroom accessing the regular curriculum. However, the Court recognized that students who do not access the regular curriculum must still have a program that gives them a chance to meet challenging objectives based on their unique needs. This is the point of IDEA – individualized education.
What does this mean? The U.S. Supreme Court has not provided a strict formula for how to measure a student’s progress. Rather, it has stated the obvious – that progress must be viewed in light of the student’s unique needs. It is not enough to advance from the 2nd grade to the 3rd when the IEP goals never change because the child has not mastered them. Schools must provide educational programs that meet the student’s unique needs and then measure progress in light of those needs. That is what the IEP is all about!
This is a huge win in the fight for a free and appropriate education for students with disabilities!
Our lives here at The Ramage Law Group are spent fighting daily for the rights of students with disabilities and it is such a refreshing moment to see advancements one case at a time.
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