54 Children’s Legal Rights Journal [Vol. 38: 1 2018]
requirements of NCLB were void as of August 1, 2016, and the new ESSA accountability plans
had to be in full effect by the 2017-2018 academic year. 62 While these changes have been praised
on both sides of the political aisle, at first glance, ESSA has not made any noticeable improvements
for students with disabilities. 63 This is yet another example where the legislative branch had the
opportunity to clarify the IDEA, but did nothing.
Today, the IDEA is a federal spending program designed to assist school districts in
providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to children with disabilities. 64 Under the
IDEA, a FAPE is defined as:
special education and related services that (A) have been provided at public
expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge; (B) meet the
standards of the State educational agency; (C) include an appropriate preschool,
elementary school, or secondary school education in the State involved; and (D) are
provided in conformity with the individualized education program . . . 65
Unfortunately, the IDEA is plagued with ambiguities and a lack of Congressional oversight. 66 This
leads parents, as well as school districts, “to look to the courts for guidance.” 67
C. Supreme Court Precedent
In addition to Congressional efforts, in 1982 the Supreme Court established the current
standard used to determine whether a school has complied with the IDEA in furnishing an IEP that
provides a free appropriate public education (FAPE). 68 When faced with a claim that a FAPE has
not been provided under the IDEA, the court will ask: ( 1) whether the school district complies with
the mandated procedures in the IDEA when implementing an IEP; and ( 2) whether the IEP allows
the child to receive an educational benefit.. 69
In Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, the Court
held that the IDEA guarantees a “basic floor of opportunity,” specifically designed to meet the
child's unique needs, supported by services that will permit him [or her] to benefit from the
instruction. 70 This case involved a deaf student who was denied a sign language interpreter in her
first grade class because it was determined that she was so adept at reading lips that she did not
need an interpreter. 71 Her parents disagreed with the school’s decision and sued the school
district. 72 The district court found that she was not receiving a FAPE under what would become
64 Sarah Prager, An “IDEA” to Consider: Adopting a Uniform Test to Evaluate Compliance with the IDEA’s Least
Restrictive Environment Mandate, 59 N. Y.L. SCH. L. REV. 653, 654 (2015) (citing 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400-1401 (2012)).
65 20 U.S.C. § 1401( 9).
66 Mark F. Kowal, Current Issues in Public Policy: A Call to the Courts to Narrow the Scope of the Definition of
Learning Disability Within the Americans with Disabilities in Education Act, 6 RUTGERS J.L. & PUB. POL'Y 819, 819
68 Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, at 206–07.
69 Id. at 206–08.
70 Id. at 201.
71 Id. at 184–85.
72 Id. at 185.