IDEAs That Provide a Solution When the Courts Have Disabled the System 59
on the amendments from 1975, defining “related services…[as those] necessary for a [disabled]
child to fully benefit from special education.”124 The court in Polk recognized that the Supreme
Court had determined that “Congress did not intend to provide optimal benefit,”125 but the court
countered this by finding that the use of the phrase “full educational opportunity” in the Act itself,
as well as the Act’s legislative history, proved an “intent to afford more than a trivial amount of
D. Patently Unclear
Some circuits are so patently unclear as to how much benefit is required under the IDEA
that attorneys have resorted to using the terms “some” and “meaningful” interchangeably.127 In
Lessard v. Wilton, the First Circuit rejected that an IEP was needed to provide the “maximum
benefit available.”128 The court’s reasoning was based on its finding that the standard “had no
support in the text of the amendments . . . [or] other court of appeals, post–1997.”129 Then, in 2012,
the court used the term “meaningful” to describe the standard it was applying throughout its
opinion. To dispose of the issue, though, the court cited to a Tenth Circuit case, which concluded
that the IEP need only provide “some” educational benefit,130 momentarily leaving attorneys
unsure of whether the First Circuit was adopting the Tenth Circuit’s “some” educational benefit
standard. Most recently, the First Circuit has stated that it “review[s] an IEP's compliance with the
IDEA based on whether the IEP is reasonably calculated to confer a meaningful educational
The Fifth Circuit was especially confusing, as it used the term “meaningful” but then
discussed that the benefit does not have to meet a maximum standard.132 In 1997, the Fifth Circuit
held that a child with disabilities was not entitled to a program that “maximize[d] the child’s
educational potential.”133 It quoted Rowley, stating 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 to benefit from the instruction.”134 It also held, however, that the educational benefit
“cannot be a mere modicum or de minimis.”135 Instead, the IEP must be “likely to produce
124 Id. at 181 (quoting Sen. R. No. 168, 94th Cong., 1st Sess. at 42); see also 121 CONG. REC. 19482 (remarks of
Senator Randolph discussing the goals of the EHA as “[a]chieving a goal of full educational opportunities”).
125 Polk, 853 F.2d at 180– 81.
127 See Lessard v. Wilton Lyndeborough Coop. Sch. Dist., 518 F.3d 18, 28 (1st Cir. 2008); D.B. ex rel. Elizabeth B.
v. Esposito, 675 F.3d 26, 35 (1st Cir. 2012); Ms. S. v. Reg’l Sch. Unit 72, 829 F.3d 95, 114 (1st Cir. 2016) (quoting
Esposito, 675 F.3d at 34); see also Richardson Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Michael Z., 580 F.3d 286, 292 (5th Cir. 2009).
128 Lessard, 518 F.3d at 28.
130 Esposito, 675 F.3d at 37 (citing Thompson R2-J Sch. Dist. v. Luke P. ex rel. Jeff P., 540 F.3d 1143, 1149 (10th
131 Ms. S., 829 F.3d at 114 (quoting Esposito, 675 F.3d at 34).
132 Richardson, 580 F.3d at 292; See Cypress–Fairbanks Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Michael F., 118 F.3d 245, 247 (5th Cir.
133 See Cypress–Fairbanks, 118 F.3d at 247.
134 Richardson, 580 F.3d at 292 (quoting Cypress–Fairbanks, 118 F.3d at 247-48); see also Rowley, 458 U.S. at 206-
135 Richardson, 580 F.3d at 292 (quoting Cypress–Fairbanks, 118 F.3d at 247–48).