IDEAs That Provide a Solution When the Courts Have Disabled the System 55
titled the IDEA, because she understood significantly less than her non-deaf peers and, therefore,
she was “not learning as much or performing as well academically, as she would without her
The Supreme Court granted review to answer the statutory interpretation question of what
Congress meant by the requirement of a “free appropriate public education.” 74 To answer this
question, the Court created a two-prong test. 75 The first prong is a procedural one, asking: “has the
state complied with the procedures set out in the Act?” 76 The second prong is substantive, asking:
“is the IEP . . . reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits?” 77 The
first prong is a threshold element. If there is a procedural violation, the court will not consider the
substantive prong. Unfortunately, due to disagreement in the lower courts on how much benefit an
IEP must provide, it is the substantive prong that has created the circuit split. 78
While the Court recognized that Congress did not offer much assistance in defining what
was “appropriate,” Congress provided a definition for the phrase “free appropriate public
education.” 79 The Court noted that FAPE was defined as:
special education and related services which ( 1) have been provided at public
expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge; ( 2) meet the
standards of the State educational agency; ( 3) include an appropriate preschool,
elementary school, or secondary school education in the State involved; and ( 4)
are provided in conformity with the individualized education program required
under section 1414(a)( 5) of this title. 80
Ironically, the definition uses the term “appropriate” to define a “free appropriate public
education.” Due to this ambiguity, the Court looked at Congressional records to determine the
intent of Congress. 81
The Court summarized the extensive history of education for children with disabilities that
led to the Act. 82 It interpreted the legislative history to show that the intent of Congress, through
this Act, was to provide access for children with handicaps to public education, not to guarantee
any substantive educational outcome. 83 The Court further noted that both the Senate and House
Reports on the Act made clear that an “appropriate education is provided when personalized
educational services are provided.” 84 The reports are silent, however, as to any required outcomes
73 Id. at 185-86.
74 Rowley, 458 U.S. at 186.
75 See id. at 458 U.S. at 206–07.
76 Id. at 207 (referring to the IDEA).
77 Id. at 208.
78 See infra Part III.
79 Rowley, 458 U.S. at 187.
80 Id. at 188 (quoting the definition of FAPE as defined through 94 Pub. L. 142).
82 Id. at 191 (referencing 121 Cong. Rec. 19486 and 121 Cong. Rec. 19494, remarks by Sen. Williams and Sen. Javits
83 Id. at 192 (quoting S. Rep., No. 94-168 at 11, (1975) stating that the Act did not “guarantee to produce any particular
outcome”). See also id. at 201 (“[the] ‘basic floor of opportunity’ provided by the Act consists of access to specialized
instruction and related services which are individually designed to provide educational benefit to the handicapped
84 Rowley, 458 U.S. at 197.