58 Children’s Legal Rights Journal [Vol. 38: 1 2018]
the court only mentioned the term “meaningful” one time to note that the standard in Rowley “can’t
be more than meaningful.”109
Courts that require an IEP to confer a meaningful educational benefit reason that it could
make all the difference in the independence of the child once they become an adult.110 Since the
case before the Rowley Court involved a plaintiff who was receiving passing grades and
progressing successfully to each grade level, the Rowley Court did not have an opportunity to
address how much educational benefit the IEP should confer.111 Therefore, lower courts have the
opportunity to set a higher standard of educational benefit than “some” or “any.”112
Courts in the meaningful benefit camp also look to Congressional intent of the IDEA,
reasoning that applying a “some” educational benefit standard cannot achieve the goals of the
IDEA.113 Therefore, Congress must have intended the educational benefit to be “meaningful.”114
Some circuits have remained inconsistent as to which standard to apply.115 This is due, in
large part, to the language in Rowley mentioned above.116 For example, the Third Circuit has stated
that the school district must provide an education “sufficient to confer some educational benefit,”
but is not required to “maximize the potential of [disabled] children.”117 Historically, the Third
Circuit required “more than a trivial or de minimis educational benefit.”118 But more recently, the
Third Circuit has held that “more than a trivial educational benefit” fails to meet Polk v. Central
Susquehanna Intermediate Unit’s standard that an IEP confer a meaningful benefit on the child’s
education.119 The Third Circuit argues that it is now conventional wisdom that the IDEA
“require[s] that a disabled child be placed in the least restrictive environment that will provide him
with a meaningful educational benefit.”120
In Polk, the court observed that one cannot avoid answering the question of “how much
benefit is sufficient to be meaningful” in these types of cases.121 The court examined what the Act
meant by “benefit” and sought to apply a standard that was consistent with Congressional intent
and the Rowley decision.122 The court noted that Congress defined the EHA’s purpose as providing
“full educational opportunity to all [disabled] children.”123 Polk also referenced a Senate Report
109 Transcript, supra note 5, at 44–45.
110 See Deal, 392 F. 3d at 863.
111 Deal, 392 F. 3d at 863.
113 Id. at 864.
115 Compare Oberti v. Bd. of Educ., 995 F.2d 1204, 1213 (3d Cir. 1993) (requiring a more than de minimis standard),
and L.E. v. Ramsey Bd. of Educ. 435 F.3d 384, 390 (3d Cir. 2006) (requiring some educational benefit to maximize
116 Rowley, 458 U.S. at 201.
117 Ramsey, 435 F.3d at 390 (quoting T.R. ex rel. N.R. v. Kingwood Twp. Bd. of Educ., 205 F.3d 572, 577 (3d Cir.
118 Oberti, 995 F.2d at 1213.
119 Ramsey, 435 F.3d at 390 (discussing a standard laid out in Polk v. Cent. Susquehanna Intermediate Unit 16, 853
F.2d 171, 184 (3d Cir.1988)).
120 Id. at 390 (quoting Kingwood Township, 205 F.3d at 578).
121 Polk, 853 F.2d at 180.
123 Id. at 180-81 (quoting 20 U.S.C. § 1412( 2)(A)).