The IEP must aim to enable the child to make progress. After all, the essential function of an IEP is to set out a plan for pursuing academic and functional advancement. – Chief Justice Roberts on the Opinion of the Court in Endrew F. v. Douglas Country School District
It’s that time of year again! There’s only a few months left of the school year and IEP meetings will soon be underway (if they aren’t already).
It seems almost serendipitous that this ruling would come about now!
I want to preface this by saying that I have sat on both sides of the table in an IEP meeting as both the employee of a public school district and a parent of a special needs child. To be honest, it never made me feel a bit more compassionate towards the school districts. If anything, it firmed up my resolve down the road to never allow any school district to mark my child’s “success” by minor gains met at the end of a near-failure quarter directed by an IEP that missed the mark entirely (in my opinion). It also affirmed the fact that at the end of the day, from my personal perspective, my focus was on the best interest of my child, while the district’s remained on the best interest of the district.
Less is Never More in an IEP Meeting
There are few things worse than sitting in an IEP meeting and being told that what’s being offered is “enough” for your child when you, the army of specialists you’ve had evaluate your child and your child’s success or failure at school say otherwise.
We’ve sat in IEP meetings where we’ve brought volumes of evaluations and consultation recommendations to the table only to have a district representative tell us that while they appreciated (insert eye-roll) our input, in the end they felt they were doing “enough” by offering very little. After all, shouldn’t they give our child the room to fail before assuming he will?
While this argument might seem to make sense to someone outside of the situation, it essentially discounts your input as the parents and the input of the specialists your child sees.
My question, when faced with this scenario, has always been: Are you willing to allow a child who is already struggling to most likely fail before you’re willing to give them the supports they (as supported by lengthy evals and documentation) need?
Doesn’t it make more sense to provide reasonable supports and then slowly remove them as the child proves he/she no longer requires them, rather than the reverse?
The district predictably always responds with something along the lines of, “Well, we would hate to see your child become dependent on them when they don’t really need them. We would hate to see him/her use that as a crutch.”
I agree, I would never want my child to become so dependent on supports or accommodations that he is unable to ween off of them down the road if he truly no longer needs them. I’m a huge fan of devising a plan upfront to whittle down supports gradually to allow a child to recalibrate and then work progressively more independent of those supports until you find he/she hits their limit. But let’s be serious, some supports and accommodations are things my children will likely always need based on how their brains function. Are you saying that the “real world” shouldn’t accommodate anything out of the norm once they enter college or the workforce?
The fact is, colleges and companies already do, so let’s worry about making sure our children are in the best possible positions to be as successful in school now as they can be!
When District Opinions Trump Professional Opinions
We’ve had district professionals tell us in one breath that they cared as much about our child’s future as we did (no reasonable person would ever claim to care as much about your child as you do in our opinions), then tell us in the next breath they didn’t see a need to provide any real supports for a child that demonstrated a clear need for supports.
We’ve paid thousands for evaluations and consultations so that we could come as prepared as possible to the table with quantifiable data supporting recommendations for certain supports and accommodations. We’ve paid to have specialists conference in to make their recommendations “in-person” and provide answers to questions from the district during IEP meetings.
Yet after all that prep, we’ve still had school districts tell us that while they respected the “opinions” of our specialists (leading professionals in their medical fields) that they felt their district professionals (none of which were on the same caliber) believed otherwise and they felt confident moving forward with their opinions instead.
It’s like hitting a brick wall over and over.
To be fair, my version of “enough” as a parent will surely be different than the district’s in most cases. While I worry about how my child will function down the line as an adult with the education he’s currently receiving, they worry about remaining in compliance with IDEA and budgeting the professionals and paraprofessionals they hire to meet the needs dictated by the signed IEPs they have for the year. But simply because my best-case scenario isn’t the same as the district’s doesn’t mean we aren’t willing to compromise to a reasonable degree.
The problem is, we (like many parents in our situation) have felt helpless. While IDEA stated that districts had to provide a “free appropriate public education”, school districts were widely left to their own interpretations regarding what that meant. Appropriate in our opinions was never appropriate in theirs—from our experience.
Implying to a parent that having their child in a classroom is more or less enough in and of itself is … offensive at best.
Shouldn’t we want more for our students regardless of whether or not the cookie-cutter delivery of education currently provided suits them?
Shouldn’t we want our children to succeed to the best of their abilities?
It seems the Supreme Court thinks we should!
In what has certainly been an historic ruling in Endrew F. v. Douglas Country School District, the Supreme Court has determined that the term “appropriate” (as it pertains to IDEA’s guarantee of a free appropriate public education) means more than what lower courts originally held in this case.
“It cannot be right that the IDEA generally contemplates grade-level advancement for children with disabilities who are fully integrated in the regular classroom, but is satisfied with barely more than de minimis progress for children who are not,” read the opinion, signed by Chief Justice John Roberts.
The Supreme Court affirmed that IDEA is meant to provide children with disabilities with IEPs that are “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”
Many parents with children with disabilities are celebrating this decision alongside those fighting for better, fairer educations for special needs students.
We personally feel this could potentially give parents like us another thing to reference when challenging the district’s decisions on what they feel should or should not be included on your child’s IEP.
We’ve been at the point in the past where we were left with either signing an IEP we were insanely unhappy with or going to court with the district (this is actually what led us to home school both boys). We’ve always been advised that while not necessarily true 100% of the time, courts often find in favor of the district. Spending the time and resources to approach an IEP meeting equipped to make reasonable arguments for certain things only to then face the additional time and costs of going to court was … heartbreaking.
We’re hopeful that this new ruling will result in more productive IEP meetings and, if it comes down to it, more favorable rulings for families should they have to go to court.
The Bottom Line
In the end, this is a child’s education and future we’re talking about. Shouldn’t we all want the reasonable best? And isn’t it important to recognize that if a child is given the right supports and accommodations to succeed within the limits of their own personal abilities, that this will also affect them socially and emotionally for the better?
Being given the opportunity to succeed often goes hand-in-hand with actually succeeding from our experience.
I look forward to the day when we walk out of an IEP meeting feeling that the district put our child first. I’m hopeful that that day will be soon!
What are your thoughts?
Will this ruling potentially give parents a firmer stance to argue from in IEP meetings?
If you have a child with an IEP, do you think this new Supreme Court ruling will potentially affect your future IEP meetings?
Disclaimer: Everything stated above is based on our opinions. While we try to complete thorough research before posting, we ask that you not take anything as fact and make sure you do your own research regarding IEPs and any other issues related to special education. You can read the court ruling HERE.