Law Center Joins Special Education Amicus Brief

The Public Interest Law Center joined Autism Speaks to request the US Court of Appeals grant a Writ of Certiorari, in support of the petitioner in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to provide children with disabilities a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE), which is accomplished through “individualized education programs” (IEPs), an educational blueprint for each child with disabilities.

The Board of Education v. Rowley case in 1982 declared that each IEP must be reasonably calculated to confer an educational benefit, but did not define the appropriate level of educational benefit, which has led the courts of appeals to become divided over the issue. Some circuits require a substantial educational benefit while others merely require a just-above-trivial educational benefit.

Endrew was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old. He attended public school in Colorado until the 4th grade when his parents transferred him to a private school that specializes in educating children with autism because he was having a hard time. The private school provided Drew with ABA, an evidence-based intervention, and he improved significantly. Drew’s parents sued the school district for failing to address Drew’s educational needs, but under the just-above-trivial standard the Tenth Circuit adopted, they rejected his parents request for reimbursement of the private school tuition.

The Amici Curiae wants the Court to resolve this split by creating a uniform national standard for a FAPE that will allow for better predictability of litigation outcomes and earlier resolutions of disputes over IEPs as well as overcome the current educational disparity among children with disabilities.

Resolution of the circuit split is imperative because the scope and nature of disabilities presented by children served under IDEA is growing rapidly and major developments in evidence-based interventions and assistive technologies since Rowley can enlarge access of children with disabilities to a meaningful education fostering independent, productive lives. It will also give meaning to the amendments to IDEA that were passed by Congress to emphasize the need of IEPs to prepare children with disabilities for further education, employment and independent lives.

The Law Center is dedicated to securing a fair and appropriate public education for all children with disabilities by using due process complaints, federal appeals, class action lawsuits, and other strategies to compel meaningful structural changes in school districts. In addition, we educate families about their rights, empowering them to secure the services their children need, and we advocate for more effective special education policies at the local, state and national levels. The just-above-trivial standard adopted by the Tenth Circuit is incompatible with those goals, which is why the Amici Curiae request that the Court grant the petition for a writ of certiorari.

Read the full amicus brief here.