Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

On January 11, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Endrew F. ex rel. Joseph F. v. Douglas County School District RE 1, Docket No. 15-187, to address the level of benefit a school must confer on students to provide them with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) under the IDEA.  The Court’s ultimate ruling on the case could have provide some clarity as to what constitutes a FAPE, especially for students with severe disabilities.

In 1982, the Supreme Court stated that the IDEA required districts to provide students with special needs with “some educational benefit.”  Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist., Westchester Cty. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 200 (1982).  It stated that for students who participated in the regular education curriculum, this meant schools had to provide the student with a program that was “reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade.”  Id. at 204.  It did not articulate a similar test for determining when students who were not participating in the general education curriculum were receiving “some educational benefit.”

In Endrew F., the student petitioner argued that the Supreme Court should clarify that, for such students, “some benefit” meant more than a “barely de minimis educational benefit.”  He urged the Court to interpret the IDEA to require schools to provide programs for students not participating in the general education curriculum that were “reasonably calculated to provide substantially equal educational opportunities” and included “standards, that were the highest possible achievable by the student.”  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out, however, that this was the standard the majority of the Court rejected in Rowley.  The petitioner responded that Congress had amended the IDEA twice since the Rowley decision, indicating an intent to require districts to provide students with “[e]qual educational opportunity.”
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On September 29, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear the case of Endrew F. ex rel. Joseph F. v. Douglas County School District RE 1, Docket No. 15-187  to decide the question “What is the level of educational benefit that school districts must confer on children with disabilities to provide them with the free appropriate public education guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.?” See Appellant’s Petition for Certiorari.  At issue is how courts have applied the well-known Rowley FAPE standard, announced by the Supreme Court in 1982, which provides that a school district must provide an individualized education program that allows a child with a disability to receive “educational benefit.” See Bd. of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 200 (1982).  The Rowley case expressly rejected a potential-maximizing FAPE standard. Id. at 198-99.  Since Rowley, lower courts subsequently have described the Rowley standard as ranging from requiring “some” or merely “more than trivial” benefit to requiring “meaningful” benefit.  Congress has amended what is now known as the IDEA several times since the Rowley case, most notably in 1986, 1990, 1997, and 2004, but Congress has never expressly provided a standard by which to analyze whether a child’s programming and services substantively provide the child with FAPE.
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ParentsMeetWithAdministratorImageThe Connecticut State Department of Education (“SDE”) recently issued a guidance memorandum  providing its interpretation of when a parent is entitled to a publicly funded independent educational evaluation (“IEE”) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) regulations.  This SDE guidance comes in the wake of, and includes as a reference, the February 2015 Letter to Baus, issued by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Special Education Programs (“OSEP”).  Letter to Baus clarified OSEP’s position that if a parent disagrees with a school district’s evaluation, parents may request a publicly funded IEE even in an area not previously assessed by the school district.  Letter to Baus was previously discussed in more detail by our colleague, Gwen Zittoun.

At the outset, SDE reminds districts that under the IDEA regulation governing IEEs, school districts have only two choices when a parent requests a publicly funded IEE: (1) ensure that an IEE is provided at public expense, or (2) file for a due process hearing to demonstrate either that the district’s evaluation was appropriate or that the IEE obtained by the parent does not meet district evaluation criteria.


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IEPImageThe topic of independent educational evaluations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) has, now more than ever, become one of the most discussed and debated topics in special education. The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (“OSEP”), has provided guidance on a parent’s right to receive an independent educational evaluation (“IEE”), most recently earlier this year in Letter to Baus. In summary, the Letter provides that a parent is not limited to obtaining an IEE only in the area that was assessed by the school district.

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