Court ruling confirms schools must help students with disabilities make meaningful progress, professors say

LAWRENCE — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday in a decision that is expected to strengthen the rights of students with disabilities across the nation by requiring public schools to offer special education programs that meet higher standards. The ruling in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District states it is not enough for schools to offer minimal instruction for students with special needs. Instead, schools must offer an education program “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances” and that the essential function of the educational plan is to “set out a plan for pursuing academic and functional advancement.”

Professors Michael Wehmeyer and Karrie Shogren of the University of Kansas are available to discuss the ruling. They can discuss the case, its ramifications, special education, special education standards, students with disabilities, providing adequate educational opportunities and related topics. Wehmeyer is distinguished professor and associate chair in KU's Department of Special Education and director of the Beach Center on Disability. Shogren is professor in the special education department and director of the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities. Both research centers are located within the Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies at KU.

The case clarifies what exactly the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, commonly known as IDEA, means by its requirement of a “free and appropriate public education” for students with disabilities. School officials had argued that it would be too expensive to impose higher standards, while advocates claimed schools should offer more than bare minimums.

“At question before the court was what constituted an ‘appropriate’ education for students receiving special education,” Wehmeyer said. “A 1982 Supreme Court (Rowley) ruling had set the standard that the student’s education program must be one from which the student must be reasonably expected to benefit. As has been the case in general education over the 25 years since that ruling, expectations for students receiving special education services have been raised, and the IDEA mandates that all students receiving special education services be involved with and progress in the general education curriculum. In rulings leading up to the Endrew F v. Douglas County School District decision, lower courts had ruled that, according to Rowley, the school district in this case had only to provide the child an education that was calculated to confer an educational benefit that was ‘merely more than de minimus.’ In its ruling today, the Supreme Court has, in essence, confirmed that the educational programs of children receiving special education must enable students to make meaningful progress appropriate to the child’s circumstances.”

Shogren and Wehmeyer have done extensive research and writing in special education, self-determination and preparing students with disabilities for higher education and competitive employment after secondary school. They have been a key part of efforts to adapt the Supports Intensity Scale for children, published by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to help youths actively participate in the community and engage in activities and life experiences. They have also helped train educators in how best to prepare students for competitive employment in the wake of a previous Supreme Court ruling and written on the benefits of inclusive schools.

To schedule an interview, contact Mike Krings at 785-864-8860 or

Wed, 03/22/2017


Mike Krings

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