It’s been six months since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled schools must be held to a “markedly more demanding” standard when educating students with disabilities. The case of Endrew F. (Drew) vs. Douglas County is the disability community’s Brown vs. Board of Education. It should have a far reaching impact on America’s 6.5 million students with disabilities.
With the school year just starting again, the question is: are parents using this case to advocate for higher expectations for their child with a disability?
The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is requesting parents contact them if they have. The center is providing support to parents who want to understand the court precedent, and wants to collect data on how the ruling is being carried out throughout the country.
“The Endrew decision is a major advance. To realize its promise, parents, students, educators, and advocates must work together to ensure school districts comply with the new standard it sets,” says Ira Burnim of the Bazelon Center.
Watch this short clip for background on the Endrew case:
In March, the U.S. Supreme Court sided unanimously with Endrew’s parents and the U.S. government at the time that argued the country should reject the “bigotry of low expectations” set by the last Supreme Court case on this topic, Rowley vs. Board of Education. That 1982 court case required schools to provide “some educational benefit” to students with disabilities, but did not establish a test to determine that benefit. The result was states and school districts with wildly varying degrees of “educational benefit.”
In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “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 court creates a new standard that requires special education students to meet academic standards and advance grade to grade.
There is some concern regarding the court case and students who cannot meet general academic standards.
Endrew requires schools to provide special education that enable even the most significant cognitive disabilities to meet “challenging” and “appropriately ambitious” goals. For these students, progress may be measured against “alternate academic achievement standards” designed to promote further education, work, and independence.
Students with Down syndrome may fall into this category, and I worry that school districts will use this part of the court ruling to exclude these students. Parent advocate, Taina Karru-Olsen, says her daughter’s district staff already tried to use the case against her. “They were trying to use Endrew F. to justify extensive pullouts, more than 20% because of my daughter’s ‘need for intensive instruction,'” Olsen explains. Olsen believes all students could be fully included with the proper supports, and the Supreme Court should have stated this clearly in their ruling.
“I do think that is a danger. We tried to address it in our paper saying that it did not mean that students should be included only if they can meet grade level standards,” explains Burnim from the Bazelon Center. “Endrew was more about high expectations than about inclusion. But research and experience demonstrates that the two are very related.”
So how can parents of children with Down syndrome use Endrew to advocate for their child’s education?
“I think one way to use Endrew is to make the case that inclusion is required to enable the child to meet challenging and ambitious goals” says Burmin. We must remember that special education is not a place, but a service.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, students with the most significant cognitive disabilities are required to be instructed and assessed on the same challenging academic CONTENT standards as all other students. The difference is that these students performance on those content standards is measured using different ACHIEVEMENT standards (using an alternate assessment). The Supreme Court did not make this distinction clear, and parents would be advised to make this clear if challenged on this point. Look here for more on this.
Also, pick up one of these nifty “IEP is not a form” t-shirts and wear it to your child’s IEP meeting. The shirt takes a quote from Chief Justice Roberts, who explained that the IEP should be used like a living document.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can advocate for your child’s education using Endrew or to share how you already have, email Bazelon Center representatives at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comment below on how this case may change your child’s education expectations. I’d love to hear your stories of advocacy.