Supreme Court Hears Special Education Case

This year the U.S. Supreme Court will decide a case that has important implications for how school districts comply with the IDEA mandate to provide students in special education with a “free, appropriate public education” that confers “some educational benefit.” And therein lies the challenge: The issue before the court comes down to defining the meaning of “some educational benefit.” Is “trivial” benefit acceptable? or is “significant” or “meaningful” benefit required?

According to an article in Education Week, the case in question, Endrew F. v Doulas County School Board involves a 17-year-old student with autism whose parents say that his IEP “did not offer him an educational benefit.”

Attorneys for the parents say schools must afford children with disabilities “substantially equal opportunities” to achieve academic success and self-sufficiency.

The parents and the Justice Department are trying to stretch IDEA beyond what the law really requires, the school district and its supporters argue.

Regardless of how the case is decided, most agree that the outcome will have a long-lasting impact. “The case is one of the most significant special education cases ever to be heard before the Supreme Court,” said Antonis Katsiyannis, a professor of special education at Clemson University and a former president of the Council for Exceptional Children. “This is going to set the stage, I hope, for the next however many years, because the Rowly (the case that defined “free, appropriate public education”) stood for 30 years or more.”