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For years we've helped you stay on top of citations and case digests for all current education law decisions reported by state and federal courts of record in the U.S. Now, as an added benefit of membership, use this searchable database. It's an adjunct resource to the Student Law Review. Everything reported in SLR can be accessed digitally. Copy it, print it or bookmark it for future reference. Use the Advanced Search tool to instantly find what you're looking for.

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Featured Case

Due process is no grounds for claims arising from "paddling," even if injurious.

Clayton v. Tate County School District

No. 13-60608 (5th Cir. Mar. 25, 2014)

"Fifth Circuit Rules No Constitutional Cause of Action for Excessive Corporal Punishment at School – Even in Mississippi, Which Has the Highest Paddling Rate in the United States"

By Richard Fossey, J.D., Ed.D.

Paul Burdin Endowed Professor of Education

and

Twyla Williams-Damond, Ed.D.

University of Louisiana at Lafayette

In an unpublished opinion dated March 25, 2014, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a Mississippi student’s claims that the paddling he received at school violated his constitutional rights. Clayton v. Tate County School District, No. 13-60608 (5th Cir. Mar. 25, 2014). Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977), the Fifth Circuit rejected the student’s claim that the paddling violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment as well as his claim that he was denied procedural due process of law. In addition, the court rejected the student’s argument that his equal protection rights were violated and his claim that the severity of the punishment violated his right to substantive due process.

Read more...

Endrew F. ex rel Joseph F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, 137 S.Ct. 988
Securing a Free Appropriate Public Education in Light of the Child’s Circumstances

Mark A. Paige, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
Todd A. DeMitchell, Professor of Education/Justice Studies Program, University of New Hampshire

     Students who qualify for special education are entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE).1 To receive a FAPE, eligible students receive special education and related services.2 Special education is “specially designed instruction … to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.”3 The Individualized Education Program, or IEP, memorializes the instruction, related services, and general suite of programs designed to ensure a FAPE.4 While the term FAPE is a simply stated substantive right, its meaning in practice has been a source of contention. The issue of what constitutes an “appropriate” education has vexed educators and parents who must operationalize the term in the class, and courts that must decide between competing constructions.
     The last time the Supreme Court opined on the FAPE standard occurred in 1982 in Rowley v. Board of Education.5 In Rowley, the Court held that a student (in this case, Amy) receives a FAPE if the IEP is “reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits.”6 But on March 22, 2017, with its decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1,7 the Court again turned to the issue of determining a FAPE standard.8

Facts of the Endrew F. Case
     Endrew F. was diagnosed with autism at the age of two. He received special education services from his local public school from pre-school to fourth grade. However, his parents became disenchanted with his progress by the end of his fourth-grade year.9 In the parents’ view, Endrew’s IEPs carried over from year to year with the same basic goals and benchmarks and, consequently, his progress “stalled.”10 In April 2010, the school district proposed an IEP for the fifth grade that substantially replicated the previous IEPs, according to the parents.11 The parents rejected that IEP and unilaterally removed Endrew from public school, placing him at a private school (Firefly) that specializes in educating children with autism.12
     At Firefly, Endrew experienced behavioral improvement and academic success. His behavior improved through the use of a “behavioral intervention plan” that, in turn, allowed academic progress. While still at Firefly, in November 2010, the school district proposed yet another IEP. Endrew’s parents rejected the IEP, again on the grounds that it did not differ from his fourth-grade IEP with respect to plans to address his behavior. In February 2012, Endrew’s parents filed a complaint with the Colorado Department of Education seeking reimbursement for Endrew’s tuition at Firefly.
     At a due process hearing, Endrew’s parents asserted that the final proffered IEP was “not reasonably calculated” to offer an educational benefit consistent with a FAPE. The Administrative Law Judge disagreed and denied relief. The Federal District Court affirmed, asserting that the IEP objectives were “sufficient to show a pattern of, at the least, minimal progress.”13 On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the lower court, noting that an educational benefit is conferred as long as it is “more than de minimis.”14 In Endrew’s case, the proposed IEP was “reasonably calculated to enable [Endrew] to make some progress.”15 The Supreme Court granted the parents’ petition for certiorari.


The Endrew decision: Beyond the regular classroom
     The Supreme Court begins its analysis with Rowley. In doing so, it noted that Rowley was limited to its facts, and did not reach the “wide spectrum” of children with disabilities.” Endrew F. thus addressed this more unresolved, difficult problem of establishing one standard for determining whether a student with a disability is receiving a sufficient educational benefit. The Court observed that the Rowley review concerned an IEP for a student who was making progress in a regular classroom and, in fact, doing better than most of her peers. Under Rowley, the educational benefit for students receiving instruction in a regular classroom is one that permits students to advance from grade to grade.16 But, the facts in Endrew were different. Unlike Amy Rowley, Endrew did not receive his instruction in a regular classroom. Thus, the question arose as to what, if any, specific standard should apply to those students receiving instruction in a special education classroom?
     The Endrew opinion eschews the proposition that an IEP that meets FAPE would guarantee any particular level of educational attainment for every student receiving special education and related services under IDEA. The Court opines, “No law could do that––for any child.”17 The IEP, in providing a reasonable education, need not provide the “ideal” education.18 However, at a minimum, a substantive standard must focus on student progress.19 To do otherwise, “would do little to remedy the pervasive and tragic academic stagnation that prompted Congress to act.”20
     More specifically, the central inquiry for understanding the appropriate progress must be on the student’s unique circumstances. IEP deliberations must carefully consider and tailor an educational program and objectives to the child’s levels of achievement, disability, and potential for growth.21 Grade-level advancement may be appropriate in some circumstances. And, while an individualized assessment may lead to different goals, “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”22 The program must be “ambitious in light of the circumstances.”23 In any event, and regardless of the student’s placement, any standard requires more than de minimis progress, the standard the Tenth Circuit used to rule against Endrew.24
     Distilled to its core, the Court found, the IDEA “requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”25 Those who would prefer a bright-line test may be disappointed, because the Court was also clear that it was not articulating a formula, but rather describing a standard. Indeed, a formula would run counter to the Court’s call for an IEP tailored to a child’s unique circumstances.

Conclusion
     Endrew refines Rowley and has some significant implications for professional educators. First, a child’s IEP must have challenging objectives and be “appropriately ambitious” to be appropriate.26 Programs offering de minimis benefit will not accord with the entitlement to FAPE. Second, the objectives for a student are unique, adjusted to the circumstances to the child. One size does not fit all. Third, while deference is given to the school authorities in exercising their judgment, they must “offer a cogent and responsive explanation for their decisions.” Those decisions must be “reasonably calculated to enable the child to make progress appropriate in light of the his[/her] circumstances.”27 If school officials want their decisions upheld, if challenged, they must be reasoned and informed. If anything, school administrators and teachers must ensure that their decisions are supported by decisions grounded in best practices as they relate to the particular student.

Endnotes
1 20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(1).
2 § 1401(9).
3 § 1401 (26).
4 § 1401(9)(D). The Supreme Court in Honig v. Doe characterized the IEP as “the centerpiece” for the delivery of special education services to a student with a disability. 484 U.S. 305, 311 (1988).
5 458 U.S. 176 (1982).
6 Id. at 207.
7 580 U.S. _____ , at 1 (slip op. )(2017).
8 Id.
9 Endrew’s teachers characterized him has having a “sweet disposition,” but his behavior including screaming in class, climbing over furniture, fear of commonplace items, and leaving school interfered with his learning. Id. at 6-7.
10 Id. at 7.
11 Id.
12 Id.
13 Id. at 8.
14 Id. (internal citations omitted).
15 Id. (internal citations omitted).
16 Id. at 5.
17 Id. at 10.
18 Id. at 11 (emphasis in original).
19 Id.
20 Id.
21 Id. at 12.
22 Id. at 14.
23 Id.
24 Id. at 14.
25 Id. at 14-15.
26 Id. at 14.
27 Id. at 16.

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