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Endrew F. v. Douglas: Part 1

Endrew F. v. Douglas: Part 1

This is the first installment in a series of posts regarding the impact the 2017 United States Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District Re-1 (137 S. Ct. 988) has on public schools.


Part I: The Facts of the Case

by Dr. Christy Smith

  • Endrew F. attended a Douglas County (Colorado) school from grades K-4, where he received services under IDEA for the primary handicapping condition of autism.
  • The IEP proposed by the district for Endrew’s 5th grade year was rejected by the parents because the services outlined were basically the same as he had in previous years and they believed his progress had stalled.
  • Parents withdrew Endrew from public school and placed him in a private school that
    specialized in serving students with autism because they believed the District had not offered Endrew an appropriate IEP for the 5th grade.
  • In the private school, Endrew made significant progress. His behavior improved and he
    progressed in his strong academic goals.
  • Parents sought tuition reimbursement from Douglas County School District School.
  • Rather than reimburse, District offered to serve Endrew and proposed another IEP, which
    parents contended was basically the same IEP offered previously.
  • District continued to refuse to reimburse for Endrew’s private school tuition.
  • Parents filed for a due process hearing with Colorado Department of Education. Basis of
    parents’ complaint was
  •       -the IEP offered by District was unchanged from previous years,
          -that Endrew had made minimal progress, and
          -he was entitled to an education that was “substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities.”

  • Hearing officer denied parents request for tuition reimbursement. (District prevailed.)
  • Parents sued school district in District Court. District Court denied parents’ request for
    tuition reimbursement, stating that Douglas County SD had offered an IEP that would confer educational benefit. (District prevailed.)
  • Parents appealed to 10th Circuit Court. Circuit Court determined that IEP offered was
    sufficient because it was calculated to result in progress, even if it was minimal. (District prevailed.)
  • Parents appealed to Supreme Court of the United States (SOTUS).
  • The Decision

  • SCOTUS overturned 10th Circuit’s decision by rejecting the lower courts’ standard of “merely more than de minimis” educational benefit.
  •       –De minimis educational benefit is an amount that is small enough to be ignored; insignificant;

          -“[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.”

  • The Supreme Court determined that schools must offer an IEP that is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances and that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives” that are appropriately ambitious.
  •       -determining whether the IEP of a particular child is “reasonably calculated” for that child to make progress requires an “intensive, fact-specific” inquiry.
          -crafting an IEP that is appropriate and “reasonably calculated” for the student to make progress requires “a prospective judgment by school officials, informed by their own expertise and the views of a child’s parents or guardians”
          -SCOTUS invoked the Rowley decision to disagree with parents’ claim that FAPE required students with disabilities be provided educational opportunities that are “substantially equal” to their typical peers.