The Supreme Court’s ruling today in Endrew F. v Douglas County School District is a victory for American education and for parents who seek the best for their children. It is particularly meaningful because the case involved the children in our society who are the most vulnerable and challenged — students with special needs.
Parents know their children and what they require, and they know when those requirements are not being met. When that happens in a public school they have no choice but to do what they must to obtain the vital services their children need, even if they are to be found in a private setting. It was the right thing — the only thing — for the parents in this case to do. And, indeed, their autistic child performed markedly better in this different environment.
The High Court could have accepted the school district’s argument that, because it planned to provide a paltry “more than de minimis” educational benefit to the child, the district then met its obligation under the federal IDEA and that since the parents sought private school services without justification they were entitled to no reimbursement. But the court showed that it also knows what children require and it also did the right thing — it declared that special needs children deserve better from our society and our government, and ruled that the appropriate educational benefit for these students must meet the higher standard of “appropriately ambitious,” i.e., a plan for academic and functional advancement in light of the relevant circumstances.
The court’s elevated standard bodes well for parents who choose to educate their special needs children in public schools. The higher standard might also result in more options for parents to send their children to private schools when the school district fails them.
But we also hope and pray that the Court’s greater sensitivity to the needs of disabled public school children and its setting of a higher standard for enhanced opportunities and services for those children, will be applied by both Congress and the courts to students who are in the first instance placed by their parents in Jewish and other private schools. Those children remain tragically cut off from the same rights and services that their counterparts in public schools enjoy and receive, and that were originally guaranteed to them under the terms of the federal lDEA law.