Department of Education Issues Guidance on Endrew F. Decision
The United States Department of Education recently issued a guidance letter on what constitutes a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) in light of the United States Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas Co. School District, Re-1, 137 S. Ct. 988. The guidance letter is the first time the Department of Education under Betsy DeVos has addressed the Endrew F. decision and serves as helpful guidance on the implications of Endrew F.
In Endrew F., the Supreme Court held that to satisfy its substantive obligations under the IDEA, a school district must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances. The Court stated that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.” Prior to Endrew F., some lower courts applied a "de minimis" progress standard to IDEA claims. This "de minimis" standard required only that a school district create an IEP aimed to provide more than trivial or minor educational benefit. The Supreme Court’s holding in Endrew F. was a victory for special education advocates because it rejected the less demanding “de minimis” progress standard.
The guidance letter both confirms Endrew F.'s rejection of the “de minimis” progress standard and stresses the importance of setting “challenging objectives” for students with disabilities. Goals, according to the letter, should be drafted after considering the effectiveness of educational strategies and supports that have been provided in the past. The IEP team should consider “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, and additional information and input provided by the child’s parents.” The letter affirms that, for most students, state academic content standards should serve as the benchmark for determining whether objectives are sufficiently challenging and reiterates the IDEA's requirement that school districts periodically report on the child’s progress and reconvene the IEP team if the student is not making progress toward the IEP's goals.
For parents, the guidance letter's emphasis on IEP goals is telling. Parents should examine their child’s IEP goals to determine whether they are sufficiently challenging and to insist on the creation of challenging goals at their student's next IEP meeting. Parents should also monitor their student’s progress to determine whether IEP revisions may be necessary.
A copy of the Department of Education’s guidance letter can be found here.