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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

After the disability ruling, what will change?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act guarantees students with disabilities the chance to make “appropriately ambitious” progress, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

“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,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the unanimous court in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. The IDEA “requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

Firefly Autism House uses Applied Behavioral Analysis therapies to educate children with severe autism.

Now comes the hard part, writes Laura Waters, who has a son with multiple disabilities, in Education Post. How will it be implemented?

Endrew F., a child with autism, was making little progress in Douglas County School District (Colorado) schools. His parents were frustrated when his fifth-grade individualized education plan (IEP) “replicated his unmet fourth-grade goals and objectives,” writes Waters.

Endrew’s parents enrolled him in a private school called Firefly Autism House.

Within a few months at Firefly, “Endrew’s behavior improved significantly, permitting him to make a degree of academic progress that had eluded him in public school,” Roberts wrote.

The parents sued the school district for tuition reimbursement.

Lower courts had split on a “de minimus” or “meaningful benefit” standard, writes Paul O’Neill. The Court’s “appropriate” progress standard clearly is higher than a “de minimus” education, but is it higher than the “meaningful benefit” standard?

Endrew’s parents had asked for a ruling that IDEA guarantees  “educational opportunities substantially equal to the opportunities offered to students without disabilities.” The Court rejected that.

Miriam Freedman, a special-education law expert, called the ruling “both reasonable and workable” for parents and schools.

She hopes the ruling will “help ease the adversarial climate that, unfortunately, has grown in our schools under the special education law.”

Freedman argues for rethinking IDEA in Special Education 2.0.

The law’s “requirements and costs overwhelm schools; its regulations burden educators and confuse parents; its ‘wait to fail’ approach delays intervention for many students; its adversarial enforcement pits parents and educators against each other; and its inequitable structure affects all students,” she argues. “In short, much is broken.”

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