Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District is a court case that the Supreme Court ruled 8-0 in favor of the family. The case was about the family pulling their child who had ADHD and autism from the public school and placing him in a private school that specializes in educating children with autism. The family made the moved because they saw their son not making progress but instead regressing. At the new school, their son made significant growth academically and socially his behavior improved through the use of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. This form of therapy is standard for treating the behavioral problems of children with autism and was not offered at the previous school. The family filed a complaint with the Colorado Department of Education asking that they be reimbursed the tuition costs of the new school, which is now $70,000 per year. The family argued that at the public school, there child was not learning or growing significantly because the public school was not providing a meaningful education. Therefore the state should be responsible in covering the costs at the private school that was providing a meaningful education evidenced by their child’s growth.
The Supreme Court ruling now creates a higher standard of education for children with disabilities. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. stated that a child’s “educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances…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.’’” So what does a higher standard mean or look like? One area that people argue is in regards to Individual Education Plans (IEPs). IEPs are for students who qualify for special education and in theory lists what services will be provided to assist the child in meeting their educational needs. The three most basic components that all IEPs have are: 1) the child’s current educational performance level, 2)measurable goals that can be reasonably accomplish, and 3)special education and related services that will assist the child in meeting their goals. While it seems ironic to have “a one size fit all” approach in writing an Individual Education Plan, Gary Mayerson, a civil rights lawyer and board member of Autism Speaks states that this ruling no longer allows schools to do just that.
However given the new standard, and emphasis on individuality it means nothing without accountability. By this I mean that one could argue that they are setting reasonable goals for this specific child, and it is harder to challenge with group normative expectations of growth as defined by typically developing children. This has been the issue to date.
I think the ruling is important but for me it highlights a more fundamental concern and responsibility for parents. Namely becoming educated to know what true reasonable expectations of educational and social growth would look like for their child, and how to advocate and ensure that their child is being supported in ways to obtain those goals. I think these two responsibilities are with all parents regardless of whether your child has a disability or not. However, for parents with children who have a disability ways to become knowledgeable about reasonable expectations are speaking with experts whether that be a pediatrician or a child psychologists. Another way is to speak with other parents who have children with disabilities to learn get a better sense of what your own child may be able to achieve and ways to support your child. There are many different parent groups that you can join to build a support and information network regarding resources in your own community. Parents should feel empowered to ask questions, and advocate for their children to maximize their potential.