Our Blog


U.S. Supreme Court Rules That IDEA Requires More Than "Some" Educational Benefit

Posted by Laura E. Stubberud | Mar 29, 2017 | 0 Comments

Chief Justice John Roberts
Chief Justice John Roberts

Parents of students with disabilities may be rethinking their child's educational plan after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the case of a child with autism and attention deficit disorder whose parents took him out of public school.   

At issue in the case was the level of educational benefit that public schools must provide to students under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The Act guarantees children with disabilities a “free appropriate public education,” but the level of progress a student must make in order for the education to be called “appropriate” has been unclear, leading to school districts across the country interpreting the meaning differently.

The case revolved around Colorado parents who took their son, Endrew, out of public school in fifth grade because they felt he was not progressing adequately under the individualized education plan (IEP) provided by the school district.  The parents enrolled Endrew in private school, where he made better progress. They then sued the school district to pay the cost of his private school.

The school district refused to pay, contending that as long as Endrew was making some progress in the public school, his IEP was sufficient.  Endrew's parents appealed the school district's decision, arguing that the district should provide a substantial and meaningful, not minimal, educational benefit to a child with a disability.  Jeffrey Fisher, attorney for Endrew, said that IDEA requires schools to provide an “equal educational opportunity” for children with disabilities, or an “equally challenging curriculum on the academic side” to meet their functional and developmental goals.

The parents lost at every level of appeal, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit – the final level before the U.S. Supreme Court — ruling that instruction and services furnished to children with disabilities need only confer “some educational benefit.”

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the parents' final appeal, and on March 22, 2017, by a vote of 8-0, it overturned the lower court and ruled in the parents' favor.

“When all is said and done,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the Court, “a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis' progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all.”  The IDEA demands more of schools, Roberts said. “It requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances.”

Many people had hoped that the case would settle once and for all the level of educational benefit required by the IDEA, but the Court declined to do this.  While ruling that minimal educational progress is not sufficient, the High Court stopped short of clearly defining what an “appropriate” education under IDEA really means.  “We will not attempt to elaborate on what ‘appropriate' progress will look like from case to case,” Roberts wrote.

To read the Court's ruling, click here.

For Special Needs Answers' earlier coverage of the case, click here.

For an analysis of the ruling by the website JDSupra, click here.

About the Author

Laura E. Stubberud

Laura Stubberud has over two decades of experience in the practice of estate and family law in Nevada. After graduation from UCLA, she studied law at Southwestern University School of Law , graduating in 1992. With over 25 years of practice in Clark County, Nevada, Ms. Stubberud has substantial e...


There are no comments for this post. Be the first and Add your Comment below.

Leave a Comment

Call us today at 702.625.9260. You’ll receive the highest level of personalized service.

Contact Us Today


StubberudCuen, Ltd
2831 St. Rose Parkway, Ste 200
Henderson, NV 89052