The Almost Final Chapter in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (2017)

In a previous blog, I addressed the recent special education case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (2017).  The case dealt with the definition of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the IDEA, specifically answering the question: What is the degree of educational benefit that the IDEA requires that school districts provide to students with disabilities to meet the FAPE standard of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).   This case involved a young boy with Autism and ADHD, Endrew F.  Endrew’s parents had pulled him from the Douglas County Schools because they believed he was not making academic or behavioral progress in the school’s special education program.  They placed Endrew in a private school called the Firefly Autism House, where he made progress, both academically and behaviorally.  Endrew’s parents then sued the Douglas County School District asserting that the district had failed to provide Endrew with a FAPE and requesting tuition reimbursement for his placement at the private school.  The Douglas County School District refused to reimburse Endrew’s parents for the tuition.  The parents then requested a due process hearing and eventually brought the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.  The parents lost at both the hearing and the district court.  They then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, where they also lost.  The hearing officer and both courts ruled that the Douglas County School District had provided sufficient educational benefit to Endrew to meet the FAPE standard of the IDEA.  The parents appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a unanimous ruling, that was issued on March 22, 2017, the High Court overturned the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit that a school district had to provide an education that was conferred merely more than de minimus (a little more than trivial) educational benefit to meet the FAPE standard of the IDEA.  In fact, in the decision, Justice Roberts wrote that an educational benefit standard required merely more than de minimis benefit was so low as to not provide any benefit at all.  The new higher educational benefit standard required by the Court was that a student’s IEP must be reasonably calculated to enable a student to progress appropriately in light of his or her circumstances.

The Supreme Court remanded or send the case back to the tenth circuit court to reconsider its ruling in light of the Supreme Court’s new higher standard for educational benefit.  The tenth circuit court did not issue a new ruling; rather it remanded the case to the lower court, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, that first decided the Endrew case to reconsider its ruling in light of the Supreme Court’s higher educational benefit standard.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado issued its decision in Endrew on February 12.  The judge reversed his original decision in favor of the Douglas County School District and announced its ruling in favor of Endrew and his parents.  According to the judge, the Douglas County School District had failed to provide a FAPE to Endrew in light of the Supreme Court’s new higher educational benefit standard.  The judge ordered the Douglas County School District to reimburse Endrew’s parents’ tuition and related expenses incurred when they removed their child from the Douglas County School District and placed him in a private school, the Firefly Autism House, at their own expense.  The judge also ordered the Douglas County School District to pay Endrew’s parent’s court costs and attorneys’ fees.  Although the amounts have not yet been determined the final price tag will be large.  Except for the determination of these fees, the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School System has reached its conclusion.

The Denver Post published a very interesting account of this decision.  It is available at https://www.denverpost.com/2018/02/12/douglas-county-schools-private-education-costs/.

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