Parents and educators alike will be discussing individualized education programs for their children this spring. According to disability legal experts, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in a case known as Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, is holding school districts to a higher standard. The unanimous decision is expected to set the stage for stronger goals and higher expectations.
Endrew F. was a Colorado boy with autism. His parents felt he was making little progress in public school so they withdrew him, placed him in private school and sought reimbursement. A lower court rejected their claim on the basis that the boy received “some” educational benefit. By reversing that ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has set a new standard for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which mandates that students with disabilities be provided a free appropriate public education (FAPE). This means that school districts will no longer be able to repeat goals and objective, year after year. This season, parents are educating themselves. They are ready to show up to meetings prepared to aim for a more robust, challenging IEP goal and objective.
An individualized education program (IEP) is a plan that develops personalized services for children with disabilities or delayed skills. It is referred to throughout the school year to ensure that these students receive proper assistance and are prepared to succeed in school. Parents and educators meet throughout the school year to discuss the IEP and their children’s progress. These IEP meetings are used to discuss findings of tests, to speak about available special education services and to develop the IEP itself. Common reasons for a student to have an IEP include impairments, learning disabilities and developmental disorders.
Following last year’s ruling, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines on implementation of the Supreme Court decision. According to the document, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances. This is a rejection of the previously “merely more than de minimis” (i.e. more than trivial) standard upheld by the lower court. In doing so, the Court has set a new standard that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”
So how can an IEP team ensure that every child has the chance to meet challenging objectives? There must be annual goals aimed at improving educational results and functional performances for each child with a disability. Based on the unique circumstances of the child, an IEP must provide access to instructional strategies and curricula aligned to both challenging State academic content standards and ambitious goals. Also, there should be an accurate statement of the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance. As always, the mission of the parent of a child with disabilities is to be an informed participant.