IDEAs That Provide a Solution When the Courts Have Disabled the System 67
reasonable could be decided on a case by case basis, determined by specific facts and needs of the
individual child, and balanced with the resources of the school district. This balancing test would
also be in line with Rowley, where the Court noted that, if there were insufficient funds to provide
for the desirable programs needed by the child with disabilities, then the funds that are available
should be apportioned so that no child is entirely excluded from a public education.212
Public education is a public benefit to which everyone should have equal access. Special
education is not about equal outcomes, but rather about making accommodations that are
reasonable, so the child has the ability to learn alongside his or her peers. However, “an ineffective
‘modification’ or ‘adjustment’ will not accommodate a disabled individual's limitations.”213 For
students with disabilities, that means providing accommodations to give the child an opportunity
to learn alongside his or her peers.
If IDEA is about access to education and not about results, then why not have Ella’s mom
file a discrimination claim against the school? The Supreme Court answered this question in a
recent case, Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools.214 While the IDEA makes clear that it does not
prohibit the rights and remedies afforded under other federal laws, it limits relief under those other
laws for lawsuits where relief can be granted under the IDEA.215 The Supreme Court held in Fry
that if the essence of the plaintiff’s suit is the denial of the IDEA’s core guarantees of a FAPE,
then a parent must exhaust the IDEA’s administrative procedures under the Act.216 Exhaustion of
the IDEA’s procedures is necessary when the plaintiff seeks relief that is available under the
IDEA.217 Courts are to look at the substance of the claims to set aside any attempt at artful
Additionally, the education of children with disabilities is also about post-secondary skills.
One of the overall goals of the IDEA and its predecessors is to keep children with disabilities in
the regular classroom as much as possible. While for some children with disabilities self-sufficiency in their adult life is out of reach, that does not mean that the school and parents should
not aim to teach the student skills that the child can use in their adult life. Sometimes, this is simply
the skill of interacting and getting along with peers. This is why being integrated into the classroom
as much as possible, without impairing the other students from the education owed to them, is
crucial in any analysis and implementation of IEPs.
To ensure that the term “reasonable” does not create more ambiguity, “reasonable” should
be judged by looking at what the school district can financially afford to provide, as well as using
grant funding to cover disparities. Once fiscal limitations were reached, further accommodations
would not be available. The legislature should put a clause into the IDEA barring the taking of
dollars spent per child without IEPs and reallocating them to children with IEPs. Instead, each
state should use a formula to set forth how much money each school would have to make these
accommodations (taking into account how many children with IEPs there were in the previous
year in each district). Once that amount is reached, the school should apply for a supplemental
budget and grants to cover additional costs. Once the school has shown that it has made all efforts
and exhausted their resources, no further accommodations could be made for that year. This
method makes it easier to hold schools accountable. In order to prevent a school from having to
212 Rowley, 458 U.S. at 199 (citing Mills v. Bd. of Educ., 384 F. Supp. 866, 876 (D.C. 1972)).
213 US Airways, Inc. v. Barnett, 535 U.S. 391, 400 (2002).
214 Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Sch., 137 S. Ct. 743, 749 (2017).
216 Id. at 754–55.
218 Id. at 755.