Supreme Court

Regina Skyer Discusses the Endrew F. Supreme Court Decision on NPR's The Takeaway

As we reported to you last week, our founding partner Regina Skyer appeared on NPR's The Takeaway to discuss the Supreme Court's landmark decision earlier this month, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, in which the court ruled unanimously (8-0) in favor of a special education student. 

For anyone who missed hearing the show live, the clip from March 23, 2017 of The Takeaway can be found on NPR's website: http://www.wnyc.org/story/scotus-hearings-continue/

A Landmark Victory: Supreme Court Rules Unanimously For Special Education Students

Regina Skyer will be discussing the Endrew F. ruling live on NPR’s national show The Takeaway today (Thursday) at 9:20AM. Tune in at 93.9 FM and AM 820 or click on the livestream on WNYC’s website http://www.wnyc.org/. 

The Supreme Court returned a landmark unanimous (8-0) decision in the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District in favor of a special education student. We are thrilled that the Court has taken such a clear and strong stand, powerfully affirming the spirit of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

As we first reported to you in January, when five senior attorneys from our office traveled to Washington DC to listen to oral arguments, the Endrew F. case concerns a fourth grade student with autism named Endrew F. whose parents enrolled him in a private school specializing in autism for which they sought reimbursement from their school district in Colorado. The district argued that they shouldn’t have to pay because in his prior public school program Endrew F. had made “some” educational progress. The parents’ attorneys argued that Endrew F. was entitled to a “meaningful” educational benefit.

What the Court has decided is that in order for a school to meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA “a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” The Court rejected the school district’s argument that for a child to receive a free and appropriate public education the IEP only need provide some de minimis (minimal) benefit to the child—as opposed to no benefit at all.

In their written opinion, the Court explained that the IEP “must aim to enable the child to make progress,” and while not every child may be in a mainstream classroom, “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”

What this means practically is that whether an IEP is adequate will turn on the child’s unique circumstances and needs and the procedures for developing their IEP. This is big news for New York state residents because the Second Circuit (which New York State is a part of) has long subscribed to the absurdly low de minimis standard. However, with the help of today’s historic decision, we look forward to holding our school districts to a higher standard.

The decision itself is only 16 pages long and special education families will be familiar with much of its language and concepts. Don’t be intimidated—read it. This is a historic moment and one to celebrate.

Supreme Court to Decide How Much Educational Benefit a School District Must Provide in Special Ed

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   Attorneys from The Law Offices of Regina Skyer & Associates, L.L.P. traveled to Washington D.C. on Jan. 11, 2017 to hear oral arguments in  Endrew v. Douglas County School District . Pictured on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court from left to right: Linda Goldman, Abbie Smith, Diana Gersten, Jesse Cutler, and Greg Cangiano.

Attorneys from The Law Offices of Regina Skyer & Associates, L.L.P. traveled to Washington D.C. on Jan. 11, 2017 to hear oral arguments in Endrew v. Douglas County School District. Pictured on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court from left to right: Linda Goldman, Abbie Smith, Diana Gersten, Jesse Cutler, and Greg Cangiano.

On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. The case concerns a fourth grade student with autism named Endrew F., whose parents enrolled him in a private school specializing in autism for which they sought reimbursement from their school district in Colorado. The district argued that they shouldn’t have to pay because in his prior public school program Endrew had made “some” educational progress. The parents’ attorneys argued that Endrew was entitled to a “meaningful” educational benefit. 

Courts throughout the country are divided on how much benefit must be offered in order for a school district to satisfy the requirements of providing a child a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). For example, in the Second Circuit (Connecticut, New York and Vermont), school districts are required to offer a program that is likely to result in a benefit that is “more than merely trivial.” Now the Supreme Court is grappling with this critical issue.

We believe that Endrew F. is the most important special education case to come before the Supreme Court in over twenty-five years. Its outcome will have an enormous impact on every one of our clients.

Five senior attorneys from our office traveled to Washington, D.C. to listen to the oral arguments. The courtroom was crowded with parent and school district attorneys from all over the country. We sat near the petitioners, Endrew’s mother and father, and their presence by our side served as a constant reminder of our own clients back in New York for whom the outcome of this decision is so personal.

The debate between the attorneys was lively. The Solicitor General spoke on behalf of the U.S.  Department of Education and, as he had articulated in the administration’s amicus brief, asked the Court to rule in favor of a higher standard than the Colorado school district was defending. The Justices asked questions of both sides, with a clear focus on how to set forth a clear standard for all students, regardless of the severity of their disability. 

Justice Alito distilled the core issue: that the court needs to find the perfect word with the right nuance to define the level of benefit required. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito joked about the need to come up with a standard that doesn’t require musical notation or the proper intonation (“some” versus “some”).

Reading the tea leaves is difficult, but we are cautiously optimistic. We left feeling that the Court will set forth a standard that is easier to understand and apply, and one that is likely to hold school districts to a higher standard than what exists now.

For more information, please see the U.S. Supreme Court’s written transcript of the oral arguments of January 11th. Audio transcripts are posted on this page when they become available.