Two days ago on March 22, 2017 the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Endrew v. Douglas County that children with disabilities are entitled under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) to receive an educational program reasonably calculated to make meaningful progress. Why is this important? Because in more than half the country, the standard of only “some” or “minimal progress” was required. Therefore, this decision resolves conflicting federal circuit courts between those requiring only “some [or minimal] progress” (1st, 4th, 7th, 10th, and 11th circuits) versus other circuits requiring “meaningful progress” (3rd, 5th, and 6th circuits). Ohio, fortunately, has followed the “meaningful progress” standard (Ohio is among states in the 6th Circuit). This decision will have a larger impact on our western neighbor, Indiana, which employs the “minimal” or “some progress” standard, since Indiana is among states in the 7th Circuit.
This decision will have a profound impact on students with disabilities and their parents, schools, attorneys involved, and hearing officers. One can no longer show some or trivial progress—meaningful progress is now required. What does this mean? Students will no longer be advanced without making any progress. There must be meaningful progress, which is objective and data-driven. Data will be required to show progress, or lack thereof, rejecting primary reliance upon subjective reports from educators about whether progress is occurring. Data is objective and better suited to support either side’s argument, including when progress is actually happening to the objection by a parent.
What else does Endrew mean?
- In my opinion, Endrew spells out substantive obligations in the IDEA versus being merely a set of procedural requirements;
- Emphasis will be placed on parents and the school to develop an IEP that focuses on progress and advancement in the general curriculum, if the child is fully integrated in a regular classroom;
- Parents have complained that expectations for their child with special needs were set too low, too often. Now that the IDEA has more substantive “teeth,” the child must have the chance to meet challenging objectives;
- In my opinion (again), the burden of proof is now on the school for proving the sufficiency of an IEP;
- The Court has set a clear and workable standard now for lower courts to apply, ending various applications employed by various circuits.
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