Solicitor General Weighs in on Special Education Case

The Solicitor General weighed in on a petition for cert in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, siding with parents on the question of the standard under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to measure whether a child has received a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).

Some circuits, like the 10th Circuit decision at issue here, had applied a lower standard—the child need only receive “some” benefit , even a trivial amount. Others, like the 3rd Circuit require a substantial or meaningful benefit. We participated in an amicus brief, along with Autism Speaks that supports the parents’ position.

The Solicitor General argued that there is a good basis on which to accept certiorari because of the circuit split and because of the importance of the case. And he argued that the court should adopt the more generous standard. With the Solicitor General taking our side, it is more likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will take the case.

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.

According to the Public Interest Law Center, this interpretation of the IDEA directly conflicts with the published decisions of the Third and Sixth Circuits. Both Circuits have rejected the “more than the minimum” test in favor of a higher standard.

The central issue raised by the petition is the degree of educational benefit that States must provide to children with disabilities in order to satisfy the IDEA’s FAPE requirement. The Court nonetheless concluded that States are required to provide “some” educational benefits and that those benefits must be sufficient to provide each child with “meaningful” access to education.

The Tenth Circuit’s approach, however, is not consistent with the purpose of the IDEA and has the effect of depriving children with disabilities of the benefits Congress has granted them by law. The Tenth Circuit rejected the petitioner’s IDEA claim based on its longstanding view that a FAPE requires States to provide “some” educational benefit that is “merely more than de minimis.” The Tenth Circuit’s standard does not square with the IDEA’s requirement that the education provided be “appropriate.” In this case, “appropriate” is defined as “specially suitable,” “fit,” or “proper in the circumstances.”

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. The Court should hold that States must provide children with disabilities educational benefits that are meaningful in light of the child’s potential and the IDEA’s stated purposes. Merely aiming for non-trivial progress is not sufficient.

Click here to read our amicus brief in this case.