On December 7, 2017, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released a question-and-answer document on the Supreme Court’s 2017 opinion in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, 580 U.S., 137 S.Ct. 988 (2017) (“Endrew”). Endrew addressed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) clarifying the scope of a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The Supreme Court held that in order for a school to meet its substantive obligation under IDEA, it must offer an individualized education plan (IEP) “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”
The authors will be presenting on this new guidance and other guidance issued by ED during the Trump Administration on Friday, February 16, 2018, at the National Conference on Education presented by the School Superintendents Association (AASA).
The question-and-answer document is ostensibly intended to clarify school districts’ obligations as identified in IDEA and Endrew, although in several respects it also seems to go beyond the Supreme Court’s actual holding in the case, recommending some measures that may not be legally required. Interestingly, this particular guidance document does not contain preamble language related to how the guidance is non-binding and does not create new requirements, although this type of preamble is typically found in similar guidance documents released by ED. The Trump administration has been critical of its predecessors for allegedly attempting to impose new legal requirements through such non-regulatory guidance.
The Q&A provides the following:
- Facts, crucial issues, and conclusion in the Endrew decision from the Supreme Court;
- Identifies how FAPE is defined in IDEA;
- Statement of the law prior to Endrew regarding the substantive standard for FAPE;
- Application of Endrew to IDEA cases moving forward;
- Considerations for implementation of the “reasonably calculated” standard, as identified in Endrew;
- Practical tips for IEP Teams, including ensuring that every child has the chance to meet challenging objectives and IEP annual goals are appropriately ambitious; and
- Issues that State Education Agencies (SEA) should consider doing differently as a result of the Endrew
The U.S. Supreme Court specifically did not define “in light of the child’s circumstances,” but ED’s guidance provides that the IEP process needs to ensure that every child has the chance to meet challenging objectives, and IEP teams must keep in mind that the individual needs of each child are essential considerations.
The question-and-answer document confirms that IEPs need not be considered ideal, but in determining whether an IEP is “reasonably calculated” to enable a child to make progress, the IEP Team should consider the following:
- The child’s previous rate of academic growth
- Whether the child is on track to achieve or exceed grade-level proficiency
- Any behaviors interfering with the child’s progress
- Additional information and input provided by the child’s parents
To note, this guidance document also uses several undefined terms and isolated statements from the Endrew opinion in ways that may be confusing to administrators, teachers, staff, and parents involved in the IEP process.
Husch Blackwell’s Education Team and the Council of the Great City Schools recently was awarded with the Education Law Association’s 2017 “Best Brief” Award for its amicus brief filed in Endrew.