District Court Applies Endrew F. Standard on Remand from Supreme Court
Fans of special education law and/or avid readers of this blog will recall the Supreme Court opinion issued last year in Endrew F. ex rel. Joseph F. v. Douglas Cty. Sch. Dist. RE-1, ___ U.S. ____, 137 S.Ct. 988, 999, 197 L. Ed. 2d 335 (Mar. 22, 2017). The case was important because it set forth the standard for determining whether an individualized education program (IEP) complies with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under the de minimis standard previously used by some lower courts, a student’s IEP needed to only be calculated to provide a de minimis educational benefit to comply with the IDEA. The Supreme Court in Endrew F., however, rejected this standard and instead held that an IEP must be “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress in light of the child’s circumstances.” This test, the Court stated, is “markedly more demanding” than the de minimis standard previously applied by some courts. The Court then sent the case back to the lower courts to determine whether the individualized education plan for the student met this standard.
On Monday, the case came full circle when United States District Court for the District of Colorado determined that the student’s IEP fell short of the standard set forth in the Endrew F. Supreme Court case. The student was diagnosed with autism and ADHD. Between his second and fourth grade year, the student’s IEP goals were modified only slightly and his parents asserted that he made little to no progress with these IEPs in place. The district court agreed that the minimal changes to the IEP objectives from year to year evidenced a lack of progress by the student. The district court stated that the student’s IEP “was clearly just a continuation of the District’s educational plan that had previously only resulted in minimal academic and functional progress.” The court also found that the school district’s failure to address the student’s behavior problems through a behavioral improvement plan or by other means also cut against the reasonableness of the student’s IEP. The district court concluded that the school district failed to provide the student a FAPE because the IEP failed “to give the Petitioner the chance to meet challenging objectives under his particular circumstances.”
The case provides a nice example of the Supreme Court’s Endrew F. decision at work and confirms the importance of “challenging goals” in any review of an IEP under Endrew F. As stated previously in this blog, parents should use the Endrew F. decision to advocate for challenging goals at their next IEP meeting and certainly not allow the school district to recycle goals from previous years or make only minor changes in wording.