In 1973, Congress enacted legislation which would later become the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The act gives students with certain disabilities the right to a “free appropriate public education.” Each student under IDEA is given an individualized education plan (IEP), which sets forth educational goals for the student and lays out a roadmap for services that will be provided to ensure disabled students can meet those goals. Under the IDEA, each IEP must ensure that disabled children are receiving sufficient help to make progress toward their education. If the IEP fails to provide such support, the IDEA allows parents to sue for tuition at a private school that can meet the student’s needs.
Until last week, it was not clear just how much help schools needed to give disabled students. In a case called Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the Supreme Court rendered a unanimous decision expanding the scope of IDEA. The case involved an autistic student. While he was given IEP’s every year and made some progress during his early education, after fourth grade, his parents became dissatisfied with the education he was being offered. Year after year, his IEP largely carried over the same basic goals and objectives, and he stopped making meaningful progress in his classes. Eventually, his parents pulled him out of the public-school system, placed him in a private program for autistic students, and filed a lawsuit under the IDEA to recoup the cost of tuition.
The school argued that it had met the requirements of the IDEA, because it had met all of the procedural requirements and provided Endrew with IEPs each year. They argued that so long as Endrew made any minimal progress toward his education, the IDEA requirements were satisfied. The Supreme Court disagreed, and held that educational programs must be reasonably calculated to enable a child to make appropriate progress in light of the child’s circumstances.
The Supreme Court has indicated that IDEA is not a toothless piece of legislation that can be satisfied just by going through the motions. When a child’s progress stagnates because of a disability, Congress affords him or her the right to services that will allow appropriate educational progress. Our firm litigates IDEA cases. If your disabled child is not receiving adequate educational services, the legal climate is more favorable than ever to consider a suit under the IDEA.