What Is The Meaning Of Educational Benefit Under The IDEA?


In May 2016, the United States Supreme Court asked the U.S. Solicitor General’s office to provide information and an opinion on whether the Court should review a case concerning the level of educational benefit that is required under the IDEA to meet the free appropriate public education (FAPE) standard.

In an amicus brief filed in August 2016, the Solicitor General strongly encouraged the Supreme Court to accept the case and resolve the question of what is meant by “an educational benefit,” which is a determination that will have a significant impact on children with disabilities across the country.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled in the case of Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 (No. 15-827) that the school district had satisfied the IDEA’s educational benefit requirement through an individual education plan (IEP) that provided Endrew F. with “some educational benefits.” This is the standard from the Supreme Court’s decision in Board of Education v. Rowley from 1982.

However, other Courts of Appeal (in the Third and Sixth Circuits), have applied a different standard of educational benefit and have rejected “the more than de minimis” interpretation established in Rowley and set the bar higher by requiring a “meaningful educational benefit.” The fact that a child with a disability must receive a “meaningful education benefit” in some parts of the country, and only “some educational benefit” in others, is not compatible with ensuring an appropriate education to all children with disabilities.

The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to accept Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District for review.

Education lawyers Scott Wolpert and Christine Gordon of Timoney Knox will continue to monitor this important case and comment on any significant development. (September 20, 2016)