Can’t Win for Losing
Three years ago the Supreme Court issued a ruling known as Endrew v. Douglas County School District. The Court ruled unanimously, as in right leaning and left leaning justices, that a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) “must be appropriately ambitious in light of a student’s circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in regular classrooms.” The Court went on to say, “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives”.
Advocates for the disabled were thrilled by the decision. Endrew determined that every IEP for a child with a disability needed to ensure that a child “make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances,” have “challenging objectives” and be “appropriately ambitious.” Legal analysts agree that all three prongs of the decision are legally binding.
Parents felt that now they had a case if their child did not make progress from year to year in the child’s current program. More appeals of IEPs were filed. Parents had hope that this decision from the highest court would improve outcomes for their children.
Turns out, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Except in this instance the outcomes for parents became worse. Recently the Journal of Legislation and Public Policy published by the New York University looked at 142 federal court decisions since the Endrew ruling. They found that the school districts won 114 of those decisions. That is a “win rate” of 98% for the school systems. In cases heard prior to the Endrew decision, school districts were winning 90% of the cases. So the Supreme Court decision that was supposed to help children, actually is helping school districts win.
Why is that? Mostly the researchers believe that the primary reason is that judges are not looking at all three prongs of Endrew AND the family attorneys are insufficiently schooled to make sure that they do. Others believe that the statistics do not tell the whole influence of Endrew. These people believe that children are benefiting much earlier in the process and that Endrew is very much influencing IEPs.
Only problem with that is that school systems are also winning 95% of the cases at the due process hearings and at state level cases. Seems that regardless of where cases are heard, parents and their kids can’t win for losing.