On Wednesday, March 22, 2017, the special needs community was able to breathe a collective sigh of relief. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision that upholds and clarifies the right to free appropriate public education (F.A.P.E.) for all citizens. The challenge came from a family that had been told by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado that their school district need only meet a “merely more than de minimus” test in order to have met the F.A.P.E. standard. The U.S. Supreme Court clarified that the standard is more than what the Tenth Circuit approved.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the F.A.P.E. standard is a fact-intensive exercise that is specific to the unique circumstances of each child. Each child must have an individualized education plan (I.E.P.) that has reasonable expectations of being met given the child’s circumstances. While the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision requires school districts to make a more substantial effort to serve their students with disabilities, it did not include a recommendation for what sound policy should be or what appropriate progress will look like. Instead, those decisions were intentionally left to professional educators. The U.S. Supreme Court stated that a child advancing from grade to grade is not necessarily receiving F.A.P.E.
While the minimum standard was raised from the Tenth Circuit decision, the standard also had a ceiling applied. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the parents’ assertion that F.A.P.E. requires opportunities for success, self-sufficiency, and the ability to contribute to society that are equal to the opportunities provided to children without disabilities.
In summary, school districts cannot provide minimal supports and accommodations and expect to meet the F.A.P.E. standard. The U.S. Supreme court reaffirmed that families and school districts need to collaborate on setting reasonably challenging goals for every student with a disability. If the goals of the I.E.P. are met, the child will be deemed to have received F.A.P.E.
If you would like assistance in working collaboratively with your school district, or you know a family that needs help, please contact us. Oak Wealth Advisors wants to see every child maximize the educational and developmental opportunities that are available and live the happiest lives possible.