The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) never defined the substantive requirement of providing a student with a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE). Now we know.
In a unanimous decision that is highly unusual in these partisan times, the Supreme Court has now clarified that IDEA’s FAPE standard is not a one-size-fits-all substantive standard, but rather entails a highly individualized examination of the unique strengths and challenges of each student. The Court rejected a “merely more than de minimus” standard providing “some benefit” and held that 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 High Court thus has now put much needed “teeth” into every parent’s expectation that their child’s “individualized education plan” will indeed be individualized. The timing of the Court’s decision – arriving right in the middle of the 2016-2017 IEP season – leaves the nation’s school districts with little opportunity to evade the newly clarified standard.
As the Court explained further: “[Students’] educational program[s] must be appropriately ambitious in light of [the] 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 objectives.”
Mayerson & Associates is proud to have participated as amicus counsel for Autism Speaks in support of the important principles enunciated by the Court. It is particularly heartening that, while there may be tremendous division in our nation, a unanimous Court has given impact to Congress’ 1997 and 2004 IDEA amendments requiring an outcome-oriented approach — an approach that entails having high expectations. To see Gary Mayerson’s Washington Post, NPR, and Education D. interview comments, visit:
Disability Scoop: Supreme Court FAPE Ruling May Be A Watershed Moment