More than thirty years ago, the Supreme Court held that students with disabilities have a substantive right to a “free appropriate public education,” or “FAPE,” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). At that time, however, it declined to set a standard for evaluating that right. This year, the Court re-visited the issue in Endrew F. ex rel. Joseph F. v. Douglas County School District and finally and unanimously set that standard. The Court determined that a child’s individualized education program (IEP), the document that sets out a child’s special education services, must be “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” Although many disability rights advocates praised the Court’s holding as finally putting teeth in the substantive meaning of FAPE, the Endrew F. standard presents steep pitfalls for low-income parents who seek to assert their child’s rights under the IDEA. When read together with the Court’s previous decisions in Arlington Central School District Board of Education v. Murphy and Schaffer ex rel. Schaffer v. Weast, Endrew F.’s new FAPE standard further entrenches the extant disparities between the special education programs of low-income children with disabilities and those who come from higher income families.
Claire Raj & Emily Suski, Endrew F.'s Unintended Consequences, 46 J.L. & EDUC. 499 (2017).