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Unanimous Supreme Court Supports High Expectations for Students with Disabilities

For Immediate Release
March 22, 2017                    

Contact: David Card
202.408.9514 x122
press@ndrn.org

WASHINGTON – On March 22, 2017, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favour of a student with a disability in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1. The court held that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires more than barely trivial educational progress (referred to as “de minimis” by the Court) for students with disabilities.

The case involves a student with autism whose parents claim the school district failed to provide their son with an appropriate education as guaranteed by the IDEA. The lower courts had ruled for the school district and the Supreme Court reversed these decisions. According to the Court,

"a student offered an educational program providing “merely more than de minimis” progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all. For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to “sitting idly . . . awaiting the time when they were old enough to ‘drop out.’” The IDEA demands more. It requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

The Court emphasized that the program for each student must be designed to meet that student’s unique individual needs.  It also re-affirmed that the preferred educational placement for students with disabilities is “fully integrated in the regular classroom.”  But for those students not being educated with their nondisabled peers, their “educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of [their] circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom. The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging (emphasis added) objectives.”

The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), together with forty-four organizations that are made up of, represent, and advocate for the rights of Americans with disabilities signed on to an amicus in favour of the student in the case.  NDRN contended in the brief that since the Rowley ruling Congress has made clear that a free appropriate public education must provide students with disabilities with an equal opportunity to meet the standards the district applies to all children.

According to Curt Decker, Executive Director of NDRN, “Although the Court did not go as far as we would have preferred, an 8-0 decision clearly rejecting the very low standard set by the lower courts in this case should send a strong message to courts and school districts around the country that the day of low expectations for students with disabilities is over.”

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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.