On January 11, 2017, the Supreme Court took up its second case this term dealing with the educational rights of students with disabilities, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. The case involves an autistic student, whose parents were not satisfied with his individual educational plan (IEP). The parents placed him in an expensive private school and sought reimbursement from the school district. The lower courts denied their request.

At issue in the Supreme Court is what level of educational benefit an IEP must offer to constitute a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The petitioner argued that the Court should raise the standard to require IEP to offer students with disabilities “substantially equal opportunities.” The school district defended the standard employed by the lower courts—an educational benefit “more than de minimis.”

During the oral argument, the Justices did not seem entirely comfortable with either standard, asking tough questions of the lawyers for both parties and the United States.

We wrote a friend of the Court brief, together with Julie Wright Halbert, legislative counsel for the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS), pointing out that the standards advocated by the Petitioner and the Government would pose significant additional financial burdens on public school districts. Several Justices seemed concerned about that problem.

We also argued that there is no reason for the Court to change the current standard that it established in Rowley, particularly because Congress has not addressed that standard, but instead has adopted other IDEA amendments in 1997 and 2004 to strengthen the IEP process. Click here for a link to our complete brief.

A decision in the case will likely be issued later this term, which ends this June.