Is That Appropriate?: Clarifying the IDEA’s Free Appropriate Public Education Standard Post-Endrew F.

Josh Cowin | November 18, 2018

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to provide all students who qualify for special education services with a free appropriate public education (FAPE). However, the IDEA does not specify how much substantive educational benefit students must be afforded in order to receive a FAPE, leaving this question for the courts. For over thirty years, courts split over the amount of educational benefit that school districts must provide to their special education students, leading to significant confusion and anxiety among parents and school officials regarding their legal rights. The Supreme Court sought to clarify this standard in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 by ruling that special education students must receive an education that would allow them to make “appropriate progress” based on their individual circumstances. Unfortunately, the Court’s new standard created additional ambiguity and left lingering questions among stakeholders within the education community regarding school districts’ obligations to these students. This Note addresses these questions by identifying the implications of the Court’s appropriate progress standard for students, teachers, and school operations, and proposes that courts adopt a two-part test for applying the new standard that evaluates both the procedures of particular institutions and the substantive value of students’ individualized curricula. Defining the FAPE requirement this way would clarify the standard and provide stability in an area of law plagued by inconsistency.