IDEAs That Provide a Solution When the Courts Have Disabled the System 49
“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”
Ella, 1 a sixth grader, began middle school with an individualized education program (IEP)
for modifications to be made to her exams, but not the material taught to her. A few months into
her sixth-grade year, her mother discovered she was failing her classes due to missing assignments.
Ella’s mother called a meeting with her daughter’s teacher and school administrators. Her mother
was upset that her assignments were not being modified. The administration produced the IEP and
noted that Ella’s mother had previously agreed to modifications being made to her daughter’s tests,
but not to the daily assignments and lesson plans. Further, the teacher explained that this may not
be a modification problem. Rather, most sixth graders in middle school struggle in the first months
with having several classes and homework. Thus, keeping organized is a challenge, unlike in
elementary school, where the students have only a single teacher and little to no homework. Ella’s
teacher went on to discuss what she is doing with all of her classes to help the sixth graders adjust
to this new environment. Upon discovering that the IEP did not do what her mother wanted for
Ella, Ella’s mother became very upset and threatened to sue the school if they did not start
modifying her daughter’s lesson plans in addition to her exams. To avoid a lawsuit, the
administration then told the teacher to modify all of her lesson plans when it came to this particular
student. Consequently, the teacher would now have to simultaneously teach two lesson plans: one
for Ella and one for the rest of her class. Ironically, the school administrators found that this
particular teacher was one of only two teachers at the school that modified lesson plans according
to the IEPs. The rest of the teachers merely inflated grades after the fact as an accommodation.
Based on legal precedent, was it proper for the school administration to require the teacher
to make additional modifications for Ella, despite what her current IEP mandated? According to
the current circuit split and recent Supreme Court decision, it is unclear how the school should
have instructed the teacher to respond. This paper will illustrate that the “educational benefit”
standard established in Board of Education v. Rowley2 fails to address the problems facing
implementation of effective IEPs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). 3
This paper compares accommodations for disabled students to that of workplace accommodations
made under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 4 and discusses how Congress should
remedy the current problem. The goal of this paper is to show that the problems facing compliance
with the IDEA can and should be solved through the legislative process and not through the judicial
“Education is…one of the [most] contested areas in our society,” 5 and special education
receives no additional support from our nation. In Part I, a hypothetical scenario is introduced to
1 Name has been changed to protect the student’s identity. Parts of this story have also been fabricated to develop a
2 Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 206–07 (1982).
3 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400–1491 (2012), amended by Every Student
Succeeds Act, 114 Pub. L. 95, 129 Stat. 1802 (2015).
4 Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, Pub. L. 101-336 (2012).
5 Transcript of Oral Argument at 51, Endrew F. ex. rel. Joseph F. v. Douglas Cnty. Sch. Dist. RE- 1, 798 F.3d 1329
(10th Cir. 2015), sub nom. Endrew F. v. Douglas Cnty. Sch. Dist. RE- 1, 137 S. Ct. 29, No. 15-827 (argued Jan. 11,
2017) (quoting Mr. Katyal for the respondents) [hereinafter Transcript].