Kelsey Manweiler, University of Idaho College of Law, J.D. Candidate, 2018. I would like to thank my
grandmother, mother, and sister for showing me the importance in advocating for better education standards for
children; Brianna Espeland for adding a personal element to my understanding of special needs education; and Sinan
Nadarevic for his continuous support throughout this article’s development.
IDEAs that Provide a Solution When the Courts Have Disabled the System
Kelsey A. Manweiler*
Children’s education is vital to the longevity of a nation. Of equal importance is how a
nation provides educational resources to its disabled citizens. Currently, almost six million of our
nation’s publicly-enrolled schoolchildren have a recognized disability under federal law. Each of
these students have an individualized education program (IEP) to help teachers and school
administrators provide them with a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE).
While there is great support to help disabled students learn alongside their peers, a lack of
resources often leaves these students without the necessary tools to be successful in the classroom.
When this happens, parents may resort to suing the school district for not furnishing an IEP that
provides their child with a FAPE. The courts will look to see if the school followed the procedure
laid out in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as well as try to determine if
the IEP has provided the child with an educational benefit.
This article will give a detailed background of the legislative and judicial history of special
education. In addition, a detailed explanation of the circuit split that was before the Supreme Court
during the October 2016 term will be examined. Currently, lower courts differ as to what level of
educational benefit an IEP must provide a disabled student to comply with the IDEA. Historically,
the lower courts have used four different ways to describe how much of an educational benefit
must be provided: ( 1) some; ( 2) meaningful; ( 3) more than de minimus; and ( 4) courts that use
some and meaningful interchangeably.
In the spring of 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on how much of an
educational benefit a child must receive under the IDEA. The Court essentially reaffirmed their
previous ruling and held that the benefit must be more than de minimus. Unfortunately, this did
little in the way of creating a clear standard, leaving the lower courts to continue applying different
standards. Thus, the level of educational benefit a disabled child receives depends entirely on
which circuit court has jurisdiction over the child’s school.
This problem is simply not one that can be solved in the court system. Rather, it is the
legislative branch that must provide a solution. Specifically, the problem is due to a lack of
funding. While this paper will offer possible solutions for the courts as they wait for Congress to
act, Congressional action is ultimately needed to solve the disparity in the level of educational
benefits afforded to disabled children across this nation.