IDEAs That Provide a Solution When the Courts Have Disabled the System 61
education.”149 Petitioners contended that the IDEA’s purpose as amended in 1997 and 2004
provides for this “equal educational opportunity standard.”150
The Rowley Court’s sentiments were reiterated by the Justices. As several Justices pointed
out, the goal of special needs education is about equality of opportunity and not outcomes.
Petitioners’ argument for their standard left the Justices confused about how Petitioners thought
this standard helped argue for a higher standard than Rowley suggested.151 Justice Ginsburg noted
that the Court rejected such a standard in the Rowley decision.152 Justice Breyer pointed out that if
one standard were to be applied for all students, it would not accurately encompass the wide range
of disabilities.153 He was concerned that this would lead to taking funds intended for providing
services for these children and instead spending them on lawsuits litigating a too rigid standard.154
Justices Alito, Kagan and Ginsburg specifically seemed to struggle with how the term “equal”
could be applied as the measurement when schools were mandated to create individualized plans
for individual students, with individual needs.155
Respondents noted that, when there are concerns about interpreting a Congressional
standard, it is for Congress to clarify.156 They argued that in each IDEA amendment, Congress
continued to focus on procedural protections without touching the substantive standard in the
statute.157 Respondents argued that, having recognized the ambiguities in the substantive prong,
Congress’ 1997 and 2004 amendments to the IDEA placed more emphasis on procedural
protections.158 Throughout their argument, Respondents attempted to illustrate the point that an
IEP is essentially a contract, which is enforceable through procedural mechanisms.159 Respondents
focused on the “systematic requirements” that are in place through enforcement by the Department
of Education.160 This was meant to reiterate that Congress believed procedural requirements would
avoid the problems created by ambiguous language.161 Justice Kagan pointed out that this issue
could not rest on the procedural safeguards, stating that “[while] the IDEA has lots of procedures
in it…they’re all geared towards a particular substantive result.”162
Throughout oral arguments, Justice Breyer continued to discuss his confusion as to what
the Court was supposed to do about all the ambiguous terms.163 He believed this was really a
question of whether the requirements in the IDEA had been met and whether there was already a
system to enforce these requirements.164 He also noted that the Justices were hoping to rely on the
149 Id. at 199.
150 Transcript, supra note 5, at 4.
151 Id. at 3–4.
152 Id. at 4
153 Id. at 15.
155 Transcript, supra note 5, at 18–19.
156 Id. at 40, 52.
157 Id. at 30.
158 Id. at 42–43.
159 Id. at 43–44.
160 Transcript, supra note 5, at 46 (systematic requirements include “cut off funds; redirect funds; and require annual
162 Id. at 50.
163 Id. at 15.