Supreme Court expands definition of FAPE
(District of Columbia) In a carefully-worded but unanimous opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the right of students with disabilities to a “free appropriate public education” requires more than a simple compliance “check list” from schools.
Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts appeared to defer to many elements of a 1982 decision by the high court on a similar question, but took aim on misinterpretations of that ruling by lower courts in more recent cases.
Ironically, the ruling that the high court reversed Wednesday came from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeal—which included Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee to join the U.S. Supreme Court.
While much of the attention has been focused on the politics of the ruling, which came the same day as Gorsuch’s nomination hearing, the ruling is an important one for schools, parents and SWDs.
Under the prior standard of service, many district administrators were under the impression that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act didn’t define what level of service satisfies concept of an “appropriate” education. Further, under the existing interpretation of the 1982 ruling, the lower courts had broadly established that individual education plans, known as IEPs, only need to give “some educational benefit,” or a “basic floor of opportunity.”
Not so, said Chief Justice Roberts.
“It cannot be the case that the Act (IDEA) typically aims for grade level advancement for children with disabilities who can be educated in the regular classroom, but is satisfied with barely more than de minimis progress for those who cannot.
“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,” the justice wrote.
And in quoting a passage from IDEA itself, he added: “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.’”
Roberts acknowledged that the 1982 Rowley decision did not try to establish “an overarching Supreme Court expands definition of FAPE :: SI&A Cabinet Report :: The Essential Resource for Superintendents and the Cabinet: