SCOTUS and Special Education

Court Asked to Define Educational Benefit Standard  

          As the Supreme Court wraps up its current term, it is determining whether to hear a special education case in its upcoming term, which will begin October.  The case in question, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, is of particular relevance to our families, as it deals with defining what constitutes a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA).

          In the 1982 seminal special education case, Board of Education v. Rowley, the Supreme Court held that in order for a school district to meet its obligation to provide FAPE under the IDEA, the student’s program must be reasonably calculated to confer an educational benefit.  The Court intentionally left the legal standard for “educational benefit” undefined, and since then, 11 of the
federal court of appeals circuits have issued divided rulings regarding that standard. 

          Four of the federal districts, including New York’s 2nd Circuit, and Colorado’s 10th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over the Endrew F. case, apply an extremely low standard, ruling that the program need only confer a “just-above-trivial” benefit.  Another four circuits also apply the “just-above-trivial” benefit, but do not expressly reject a higher standard.  As opposed to this very low bar, two circuits require a school district to offer an educational program that can provide a “substantial educational benefit,” while one circuit applies different standards internally. 

         The attorneys representing the student in the Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, are asking the Supreme Court to define the legal standard to determine if a program has conferred an educational benefit.  The Court has invited the U.S. Solicitor General to file a brief on behalf of the United States to help determine if it should hear the case. 

attorneys at Skyer Law make it a practice of staying abreast of both New York state, as well as federal, trends pertaining to special education law.  We strongly want the Supreme Court to hear this case, as we are certain its doing so will benefit our clients.  We will continuously monitor the progress of this pending case, and keep you updated on the progress.