The Supreme Court of the United States just issued their opinion in the Endrew F case. https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-827_0pm1.pdf
This precedent setting decision will finally bring consistency among all of the country’s federal courts that hear IDEA-based appeals. It will then impact how our Hearing Officers decide the due process cases.
How does that impact Alabama? It raises the standard for special education review during any due process hearings from a “de minimis” standard to, what the court now describes, as “A child’s IEP need not aim for grade-level advancement if that is not a reasonable prospect. But that child’s educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his 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. This standard is more demanding than the “merely more than de minimis” test applied by the Tenth Circuit. It cannot be right that the IDEA generally contemplates grade-level advancement for children with disabilities who are fully integrated in the regular classroom, but is satisfied with barely more than de minimis progress for children who are not.”
What did ‘de minimis’ mean other than minimal progress? In Alabama, we’ve had Hearing Officers compare the requirements on our schools to provide a child a ‘free and appropriate public education’ (FAPE) to vehicles. A student is not entitled to Cadillac services (which would be higher than ‘de minimis’) but only a ‘serviceable Chevy’ (the ‘de minimis’ standard).
The Supreme Court just arrived and are hooking up that old rusted out “serviceable Chevy” and hauling the thing away. What’s the new “vehicle” of comparison? It will be more like a mid-size Honda or possibly a used Lexus. This will be the new standard of review in judging whether the IEP designed for your child was reasonably calculated to provide a FAPE to where you child made more than minimal progress. What I appreciate about the new analysis most is that SCOTUS has established that the expectation we have for typically-developing students shouldn’t be greater than our expectations for our IEP-qualified students, considering their needs.
We don’t know what that means for Alabama yet and I imagine that our State Department of Education and some school districts will start plotting, once again, to destroy your parental due process rights instead of focusing on changing the broken system of training and delivery so we can all rise together and improve outcomes for our children. You can always tell who the bad bureaucrats are and where awful school administrators are located by their finger pointing at everyone but themselves. So, mark my word, that the special education division within the Alabama State Department of Education will be working on changing your due process right to challenge bad programs and poor results because it can’t possibly be their fault that our special educators aren’t properly supported or trained and the progress monitoring numbers are anemic.
I’m elated with the Endrew F decision and all should celebrate because we have needed clarification and that consistency. But, I urge you to stay vigilant and prepared to join me, once again, if and when the Alabama State Department of Education revives their past attempts to destroy our due process rights.