Supreme Court to hear Endrew special education case

The Supreme Court announced September 29 that it will review a case that could redefine the level of education that schools must legally provide to comply with federal special education law.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, passed in 1975, mandates that all special education students are entitled to a “free appropriate public education.” The Supreme Court, in 1982, further clarified that each student’s Individualized Education Plan must, at a minimum, be “reasonably calculated to confer an educational benefit on a child.”

The Supreme Court has not revisited this standard in the more than three decades since.

In June, the Supreme Court asked the Obama Administration to weigh in whether it should grant certiorari in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, a case where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit interpreted the IDEA to merely mandate that an IEP provide “some educational benefit.”

This standard echoes that in at least five other circuits, but at least two other circuits have found that the IDEA mandates a higher “meaningful education” standard.

The Obama Administration urged the Court to take the case [PDF].

“The Tenth Circuit’s approach is not consistent with the text, structure, or purpose of the IDEA; it conflicts with important aspects of this Court’s decision in Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley…; and it has the effect of depriving children with disabilities of the benefits Congress has granted them by law,” the brief stated. “The question presented is important and recurring, and this case is an appropriate vehicle for this Court to resolve the conflict in the circuits on the scope of the FAPE requirement.”

Arguments will likely be heard sometime next year.