New Guidelines Issued by U.S. Department of Education for Parents and School Districts Regarding Individualized Education Programs

Last March, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously to advance civil rights for students with disabilities in its decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District Re-1, 137 S. Ct. 988.

In the case, the Court clarified the standard for determining whether a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) provides sufficient support for a child with a disability to achieve academic goals and reinforced the requirement “that every child should have the chance to meet reasonably challenging expectations.”

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools are required to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to every school age child with a disability. The IEP is the centerpiece of the school’s obligation to fulfill FAPE requirement. The Endrew F. decision clarified the standard that schools must now meet in all IEPs to satisfy a student’s right to FAPE.

Prior to the Endrew F. decision, six circuit courts were applying a “merely more than de minimis” (“merely more than trivial”) standard of educational benefit for students with disability. This standard meant that school districts only had to demonstrate that a student’s IEP was designed to provide more than trivial or minor educational benefit in order to satisfy the FAPE requirement.

The Public Interest Law Center filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in the case on behalf of several disability and public interest organizations calling on the Court to reject the “merely more than de minimis” standard.  Ultimately, the Court did reject this standard, saying “[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…The IDEA demands more.”

Because of this decision, schools must now provide all students with an IEP that is “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” This standard applies to all students with disabilities, including those who are currently performing at grade level and those who are unable to perform at grade level. The decision emphasizes the right of every student to have the chance to meet challenging goals.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) recognized the significant impact this decision may have on children with disabilities, their parents, and school districts, leading OSERS to issue a guidance document for school districts and parents regarding the Court’s decision. The document provides information on how the Court’s decision will impact the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Based upon the guidance document, IEP teams must implement policies, procedures, and practices that consist of at least the three following components:

  • Identification of the student’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance;
  • Measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals; and
  • Determination of how a child’s progress toward stated goals will be measured and reported so that the Endrew F. standard is met.

OSERS recommends that IEP teams meet more frequently throughout the school year in order to effectively set goals, measure progress, and ultimately reach goals. If the student is not progressing toward the goals written in the IEP, the school must schedule an IEP meeting so that the IEP team can determine why the student is not progressing. If necessary, the IEP Team may adjust and revise the goals so that the goals are appropriate yet challenging.

The Court’s decision does not impact parents’ rights to request an IEP meeting at any time or parents’ due process rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.