The Supreme Court’s 2017 Endrew F. decision on the meaning of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) can help advocate for your child with disabilities.  The case involved a boy with autism and ADHD, who made almost no progress on his IEP goals because his behavioral and academic needs weren’t addressed.

The landmark decision is an opportunity to improve the services IEPs offer students. And it’s up to you as a parent to make the most of it.


On December 7, 2017, the U.S. Department of Education released a Guidance document Questions and Answers (Q&A) on U. S. Supreme Court Case Decision Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District Re-1.  The Q&A Guidance is available online at

Watch our recorded webinar on Endrew F. – What Parents Need to Know with special guest presenter David Beinke, Director of Advocacy, Cirkiel & Associates.

Use the following talking points from Endrew F. to advocate for better services and supports in your child’s IEP:

1. The services and supports in the IEP must help your child meet grade-level standards.

From the Endrew F. Decision:
“For most children, a FAPE will involve integration in the regular classroom and individualized special education calculated to achieve advancement from grade to grade.”

From U.S. Department of Education (ED) Grade-Level Standards Guidance (November 2015):
“IEP goals must be aligned with grade-level content standards for all children with disabilities.”

With Endrew F., the requirements of FAPE are clear. Kids with learning and attention issues who have IEPs should be getting the services they need to perform as well as their general education peers.

Note: This talking point may not apply to kids with significant cognitive disabilities. The school must still provide challenging content, but it may use alternate academic standards appropriate to each child’s needs. This decision is made on an individual basis.

2. The IEP must be “reasonably calculated” to help your child make progress (and school staff must truly believe it will do so).

From the Endrew F. Decision:
“A school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress…. Crafting an appropriate program of education requires a prospective judgment by school officials.”

From U.S. Department of Education’s FAQs About Endrew F. (December 2017):
“If a child is not making expected progress toward his or her annual goals, the IEP Team must revise, as appropriate, the IEP to address the lack of progress.”

The test of whether a child’s IEP is appropriate looks to the future. This means the school must believe that the IEP that’s in place now has a very good chance of helping your child make progress. The IEP must be “reasonably calculated” to do so. If past services and supports haven’t been effective, the team needs to consider a change.

3. The IEP must include behavioral services and supports that your child needs in order to learn.

From the Endrew F. Decision:
“[The student] exhibited multiple behaviors that inhibited his ability to access learning in the classroom.”

From U.S. Department of Education’s Behavioral Supports Guidance (August 2016):
“The failure to consider and provide for needed behavioral supports through the IEP process is likely to result in a child not receiving a meaningful educational benefit or FAPE.”

The boy in the Endrew F. case wasn’t making progress because of his behavior issues. For instance, he climbed over furniture and ran away from school.

When a child can’t make progress because of behavior needs, the IEP must have services and supports to address the needs. Otherwise, it’s a denial of FAPE.

4. The school must have a compelling explanation for why the services in the IEP will help your child make progress.

From the Endrew F. Decision:
“A reviewing court may fairly expect those [school] authorities to be able to offer a cogent and responsive explanation for their decisions.”

From the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act:
“Prior Written Notice… shall include … an explanation of why the agency proposes or refuses to take the action…”

It’s not enough for school staff to believe the IEP will help your child make progress. The school must have a logical and convincing explanation of why it will work. The IEP team must lay out how IEP services will lead to the progress that’s expected.

The Endrew F. decision goes hand in hand with your right to prior written notice. The school must send you a written explanation before it adds, changes or denies educational services to your child. The same is true if the school wants to change your child’s placement.

5. As a parent, you help decide whether the IEP has the input it needs to be appropriate for your child.

From the Endrew F. Decision:
“This fact-intensive exercise will be informed not only by the expertise of school officials, but also by the input of the child’s parents or guardians.”

The school must get parent input when determining if the IEP will help your child make progress. But it’s not just passive. You have the right to be involved and give your opinion on whether the IEP is appropriate for your child.

6. The IEP should be “ambitious” about your child’s future and what can be accomplished.

From the Endrew F. Decision:
“[The IEP] must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom.”

From U.S. Department of Education (ED) Grade-Level Standards Guidance (November 2015):
“In a situation where a child is performing significantly below the level of the grade in which the child is enrolled, an IEP Team should determine annual goals that are ambitious but achievable. … The goals should be sufficiently ambitious to help close the gap.”

IEP goals must help close the gap for kids who are far behind. Achieving at grade level may not happen in a single year, but there should be a plan for catching up over time.

7. Your child must have the chance to meet “challenging” objectives.

From the Endrew F. Decision:
“The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.”

From U.S. Department of Education’s Twice-Exceptional Guidance (December 2013):
“Students who have high cognition, have disabilities and require special education and related services are protected under the IDEA and its implementing regulations.”

IEP goals are set to meet your child’s specific needs. Although those needs differ from student to student, the Supreme Court says each student’s goals need to be challenging.

This may be especially relevant to twice-exceptional kids, who have learning and attention issues and are also gifted. For these kids, FAPE may mean IEP goals that exceed grade level, like an AP class or similar program.

8. It’s not enough for the school to simply go through the motions and check boxes on the IEP.

From the Endrew F. Decision:
“The school district protests that these provisions impose only procedural requirements—a checklist of items the IEP must address—not a substantive standard enforceable in court. But the procedures are there for a reason, and their focus provides insight into what it means, for purposes of the FAPE definition, to ‘meet the unique needs’ of a child with a disability.”

The IEP process isn’t just a set of procedures. The school must treat your child as an individual and meet your child’s unique needs. The school also has to collaborate in a meaningful way with you, the parent.’s Endrew F. Toolkit