Advocacy In Action

Expectation: Most Children Will be Fully Integrated and Make Progress in the General Ed Curriculum

On March 22, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in favor of children with special needs (Endrew F. v. Douglas County Sch Dist (Opinion # 15-827, Chief Justice Roberts).

Purpose of IDEA: Congress Acted to Remedy Children Excluded from School with Tragic Pervasive Stagnation
Justice Roberts noted that “[T]the broad purpose of the IDEA, an ‘ambitious’ piece of legislation enacted ‘in response to Congress’ perception that a majority of handicapped children in the United States ‘were either totally excluded from schools or [were] sitting idly in regular classrooms awaiting the time when they were old enough to drop out.’ . . . A substantive standard not focused on student progress would do little to remedy the pervasive and tragic academic stagnation that prompted Congress to act.” (Page 11).

The Court emphasized that full inclusion is the primary standard with the “child progressing smoothly through the regular curriculum.” However, if the child is not fully included, then the school officials must look to the child’s unique needs to develop an IEP which is “pursuing academic and functional advancement.”

IDEA Demands More: Inclusion & Progress in Regular Curriculum; IEP ‘Tailored to Unique Needs’

In defining FAPE for a child who is placed in a setting that is not fully integrated or mainstreamed, the Supreme Court noted that “The ‘reasonably calculated’ qualification reflects a recognition that crafting an appropriate program of education requires a prospective judgment by school officials. . . The Act contemplates that this fact-intensive exercise will be informed not only by the expertise of school officials, but also by the input of the child’s parents or guardians.” (Page 11)

“The IEP provisions [of IDEA] reflect Rowley’s expectation that, for most children, a FAPE will involve integration in the regular classroom and individualized special education calculated to achieve advancement from grade to grade.” (Page 11)

“When a child is fully integrated in the regular classroom, as the Act prefers, what that typically means is providing a level of instruction reasonably calculated to permit advancement through the general curriculum.” (Page 13)

The decision is clear. Being “fully integrated” and “making progress in the general education curriculum” are the keys. If a child is not fully integrated, the focus shifts even more to the “unique circumstances of the child.”

“IEP Must Enable Child to Make Progress: A Plan for Academic and Functional Advancement” 

The IEP must aim to enable the child to make progress. After all, the essential function of an IEP is to set out a plan for pursuing academic and functional advancement.” (Page 11)

In the decision, the Court opened with “A FAPE, as the Act defines it, includes both ‘special education’ and ‘related services.’ §1401(9). “Special education” is ‘specially designed instruction . . . to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability’; ‘related services’ are the support services ‘required to assist a child . . . to benefit from’ that instruction.” (Page 2)

Instruction Must be ‘Specially Designed’ to Meet ‘Child’s Unique Needs’ Through an IEP

Later, the Court returned to these concepts: “A focus on the particular child is at the core of the IDEA. The instruction offered must be ‘specially designed’ to meet a child’s ‘unique needs’ through an “[i]ndividualized education program.” §§1401(29), (14)

An IEP is not a form document. It is constructed only after careful consideration of the child’s present levels of achievement, disability, and potential for growth. §§1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(I)–(IV), (d)(3)(A)(i)–(iv)

Progress: IDEA Demands More

“When all is said and done, 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.’” (Page 14)

“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.” (Page 14)

“We will not attempt to elaborate on what “appropriate” progress will look like from case to case. It is in the nature of the Act and the standard we adopt to resist such an effort: The adequacy of a given IEP turns on the unique circumstances of the child for whom it was created. This absence of a bright-line rule, however, should not be mistaken for “an invitation to the courts to substitute their own notions of sound educational policy for those of the school authorities which they review.” (Pages 15-16)

In closing, the Court returned to the importance of both parties being able to “fully air their respective opinions” and that school authorities should be able to offer “a cogent and responsive explanation for their decisions . . .”

Please refer to the document Is the Inclusion Model Good for Students with Hearing Loss? from Supporting Success for more information on full inclusion for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Supporting Success thanks the experts at Wrights Law for this important information. Posted 3/23/2017

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