Endrew F. Update
Last year, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, unanimously rejecting the old standard that only required “merely more than de minimis progress” and holding schools to a higher standard of developing IEPs that are “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” Endrew F., a child with autism, was barely making any progress in his public school when his parents enrolled him in a private school, Firefly Autism House, and sued the school district for reimbursement of all their costs. Applying the old standard, the hearing officer, the Federal District Court, and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals all ruled against the parents and found that Endrew’s minimal progress was sufficient to provide Endrew a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
Endrew’s parents then appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided to hear the case, but it did not determine whether the public school district denied Endrew a FAPE or whether Endrew’s placement at Firefly was appropriate—instead, the Court remanded the decision back to the Tenth Circuit to decide the case again, this time applying the new standard. The Tenth Circuit subsequently remanded the case to the Federal District Court.
In February, the Federal District Court issued its decision in Endrew F. analyzing the facts under the new standard. Judge Lewis Babcock—who previously ruled against the parents when reviewing the facts of the case under the “merely more than de minimis” standard—held Endrew’s parents were entitled to reimbursement of their private school placement from the school district, a significant victory for parents of children with disabilities.
The court found Endrew only made minimal progress, demonstrated by the lack of significant change to Endrew’s IEPs year after year. The court also found the district’s failure to address the impact of Endrew’s behaviors on his ability to make progress worked against the appropriateness of the IEP: “The District’s inability to develop a formal plan or properly address Plaintiff’s behaviors that had clearly disrupted his access to educational progress starting after his second grade year does, under the new standard articulated by the Supreme Court in this case, impact the assessment of whether the educational program it offered to Petitioner was or was not reasonably calculated to enable him to make progress appropriate in light of his circumstances.” Next, as it is undisputed that Endrew had made progress at his private school, the judge ordered Endrew and his parents were entitled to reimbursement of the private school placement, as well as reasonable attorneys’ fees and litigation costs.
This case is a significant victory for children protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—especially those children for whom schools held very low expectations and only aimed for “merely more than de minimis progress.”