Home ADHD Survival Guide Is this Supreme Court ruling a game changer for parents of special needs students with IEPs? – Edward F. v. Douglas County School District

Is this Supreme Court ruling a game changer for parents of special needs students with IEPs? – Edward F. v. Douglas County School District

written by familyadhd

Opinion Piece. We highly recommend you read the ruling mentioned below for yourself.

New Court Ruling on IDEA for Special Needs Students & IEPS

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.

Redefining “Appropriate”

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.

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candy April 13, 2017 at 2:32 am

I have not experienced this since non of my children had IEPs. My son is a special needs teacher. He has this day in and day out. He gets so frustrated when a child isn’t getting the best help they need. He feels his hands are tied.

familyadhd April 13, 2017 at 11:40 am

It’s so true! I worked in both private programs and public schools (and I have a sibling who is special needs) and it’s ridiculous irritating how hard parents like us have to fight. *sigh*

robin rue April 13, 2017 at 5:21 am

I dread IEP meetings, but here in my town, once my son is on an IEP – it lasts for 3 years, so I am set for another two. Phew.

familyadhd April 13, 2017 at 11:41 am

IEP meetings can be absolutely hell, unfortunately. It sounds like you’re happy with your son’s so that’s awesome!!!

Sarah Bailey April 13, 2017 at 6:39 am

Oh gosh these meetings sound like a really tough thing to have to go through almost like a fight each time.

familyadhd April 13, 2017 at 11:42 am

For sure! Some people have decent experience, but the majority of people I know (and all of our experiences) have been horrendous over the years. 🙁

R U S S April 13, 2017 at 7:17 am

I’m not so sure if we have a similar program ( to IEP ) here in my country, but I do hope you and your child get what you should have. I can’t stress enough on the importance of education. Children should be supported with and through these things.

familyadhd April 13, 2017 at 11:42 am

Definitely!!! We agree 🙂

Christy Maurer April 13, 2017 at 7:45 am

I just hate that so many decisions are based on the whole rather than the individual child. That’s the whole point of an IEP is to make it individualized! I homeschooled my 2 but my son did go to high school, so their whole education was pretty much individualized. My daughter will be doing her student teaching (she’s a high school integrated language arts major) in the fall and I feel for her. It is not easy having to work based on what the government says rather than what a child needs.

familyadhd April 13, 2017 at 11:44 am

Completely! Teachers and professionals providing the services first-hand in schools have their hands tied by the district and parents are left fighting for what their children need … and it can be infuriating.

Chris Lewis April 13, 2017 at 8:53 am

I had not heard about this decision but I am so glad that you shared this today. I have a child that has gone through the IEP process in the past so knowing this is SO important. Now I am interested to see how this effects our local schools!

familyadhd April 13, 2017 at 11:45 am

We definitely are as well! We’re super hopeful, things have to change for the better for our kiddos to get what they need.

Destany April 13, 2017 at 9:18 am

My son doesn’t need an IEP, but I have several friends with children who have them. The difference it makes for their children is immeasurable. I believe they are very needed.

familyadhd April 13, 2017 at 11:45 am

Definitely! And getting the right things included on your IEP is key … and often a fight 🙁 Hopefully this begins to change things a bit!

Tina Butler April 13, 2017 at 9:37 am

They are called 504 meetings in my state. My daughter has them for Dyslexia but my oldest son has ADHD but he is 23 they did not have accomodations for that when he was younger. They meetings are still tough no matter the disability.

familyadhd April 13, 2017 at 11:50 am

Definitely tough! A 504 Plan is actually different from an IEP 🙂 A 504 Plan identifies that a student has certain disabilities and therefore gets certain accommodations. An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan and it is a plan that identifies that a child is legally eligible to be classified under a certain disability and therefore receives specialized instruction and services (such as speech, OT, PT, etc.). It can be a little tricky to qualify for an IEP if your child has certain challenges versus other, but if you have specific diagnoses you can definitely push for it. I hope your meetings for your daughter goes as smoothly as possible 🙂

Ellie Augustin April 13, 2017 at 11:06 am

Thank you so much for shedding information on a topic that will be affecting so many families.

familyadhd April 13, 2017 at 11:51 am

Aw you’re welcome! We are really hopeful this is a step in the right direction for other families like ours 🙂

Jenn April 13, 2017 at 12:04 pm

As if raising special needs child is not hard enough. I can’t even image what families go through at these meeting. Sounds like a real struggle to say the least.

familyadhd April 13, 2017 at 3:50 pm

Too true! It’s definitely a challenge, especially because it’s something you’re completely emotionally invested in.

Anosa April 13, 2017 at 12:05 pm

This was a learning day for me as I had no idea what IEP was and if we have something like that in the UK in my local districts, it should be needs of the child first before the distric

familyadhd April 13, 2017 at 3:50 pm

Totally agree! Sadly, budget is often king from my experience 🙁

Pam Wattenbarger April 13, 2017 at 3:42 pm

It can be hard to get the supports you need for your child. It definitely sometimes feels like you are being fought every step of the way.

familyadhd April 13, 2017 at 3:51 pm

So true!

Katie Kinsley April 13, 2017 at 4:07 pm

Every child deserves an equal fighting chance at an education. I don’t think this subject is in my wheelhouse on how to provide support.

familyadhd April 13, 2017 at 7:43 pm

We agree, every child does deserve access to a great education 🙂

Dina April 13, 2017 at 4:51 pm

Ugh I have only had one child with an IEP and it was for gifted. I’m so sorry that IEP’s are such a struggle now. I’ve heard abut it from so many friends.

familyadhd April 13, 2017 at 7:44 pm

It’s really unfortunately, but parents will keep pushing forward as their children’s best advocates no matter what 🙂

Annemarie LeBlanc April 14, 2017 at 4:46 am

It is just frustrating to know about this things that are happening in our school system. Personally, I think people who are in frequent interaction with the child are the ones who should have more authority over decisions like this. I mean, how can somebody just know what you need or don’t need when they have never been there to observe the child to evaluate their needs.

familyadhd April 14, 2017 at 9:57 am

I agree! Typically the main teachers involved with the child, the parents, specialists and reps from the school district are all there, but I’ve been an employee of the district and you’re definitely … encouraged to suggest certain things within a limit (if you catch what I mean). 😉

My Teen Guide April 14, 2017 at 4:59 am

I can feel where you’re coming from. I can only hope that our school system would be given better attention to improve what needs to be improved and that decision makers should always gather the input of the people who spend more time with the children before they ever implement anything that would affect the kids, the parents and the teachers.

familyadhd April 14, 2017 at 9:58 am

Wouldn’t that be nice of that was always the case? 🙂

Paula Bendfeldt April 14, 2017 at 8:04 am

It’s always so frustrating to go into IEPs knowing you have to fight for your child because the schools honestly has other priorities and focus on budgets and not on kids.

familyadhd April 14, 2017 at 9:58 am


Jaime Nicole April 14, 2017 at 5:37 pm

As a former teacher, I feel your frustration. I feel like we always focused on what was best for the kids. Sometimes it’s so hard to balance everything!

familyadhd April 14, 2017 at 6:23 pm

So true!

adriana April 17, 2017 at 4:24 pm

I’ve never had personal experience with IEPs or their meetings, but the meetings definitely sound stressful. Hope they get better for you!

familyadhd April 17, 2017 at 7:00 pm

Thank you!


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