• Ten Points of Substance from the Endrew Decision

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 11/2/2018 7:00:00 AM

    I work with outstanding teachers and therapists. One of my favorite qualities of professionals in the field of special education is that folks just “want to do the right thing” for kids. This desire can be thwarted or misdirected by an overly-legalistic special education processes, a system that focuses all too often on procedural compliance. This article is intended to provide the reader with guidance on how to do “the right thing” when developing students’ individualized education plans.

    When developing and implementing an IEP, schools have both procedural and substantive responsibilities to students and their families. Some of the procedural responsibilities include timelines, written notifications, case conference committee membership, and required components within IEPs, such as transition plans for students who are age fourteen and older. It is fairly easy to identify the procedural requirements of the law. On the other hand, it can be difficult to come to grips with the more elusive substantive components of the law.

    Substantive responsibilities can be thought of as the appropriateness or quality of a student’s IEP. According to the 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Endrew, to meet the substantive obligation under IDEA a “school district must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” This is a legal interpretation of “A”ppropriate in FAPE.

    Based on the outcomes of the Endrew decision, if special educators ensure particular attention to these ten items below, the appropriateness of an IEP will be enhanced and the substantive responsibility to FAPE will be strengthened.

    ✅ Accurate, measureable present levels of performance (PLOP) based on data

    ✅ Solid progress monitoring

    ✅ Systematic reporting of data

    ✅ Demonstration of progress

    ✅ Challenging individualized objectives linked to grade level standards

    ✅ Access to core curriculum

    ✅ Consideration of behavior support needs

    ✅ Documentation of services, supports, and staff development

    ✅ High standards and challenging content

    ✅ Reconvene if no progress

    If you’d like to learn more about the Endrew decision, check out the USDOE Dec. 7, 2017 Q&A on Endrew F.


    Dr. Angie Balsley, Executive Director

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  • Defining "Appropriate" in FAPE

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 9/20/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Under IDEA, students with disabilities are to be provided with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). However, the needs of individuals with disabilities vary so greatly that it is nearly impossible to define the substance of this right to an education in general terms (Neal & Kirp, 1985).  Two cases have been heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, which have attempted to define of the “appropriateness” of a student’s IEP.

    The best-known case that attempted to define the levels of educational benefit that a school is required to provide a student with disabilities was the Board of Education of the Hendrick-Hudson Central School District v. Rowley (1982). The case involved a child who was deaf and relied mostly on lip-reading to learn in school. Her parents wanted the schools to provide an interpreter for her. The argument focused on the word ‘appropriate,’ a component of FAPE. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision that stated the school system had not provided the appropriate services for the student with disabilities (Yell & Drasgow, 2000). The decision stated that the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 was not intended to guarantee a certain level of education, but merely to open the door of access to education for children with disabilities. The Court interpreted ‘appropriate’ within the IDEA’s FAPE mandate to have a dual meaning. The school district must provide procedural compliance with the Act. The substantive standard, according to Rowley, was that the eligible child’s IEP must be “reasonably calculated to yield educational benefit” (Martin, Martin, & Terman, 1996; Zirkel, 2005).

    In reaching this decision, the Court “rejected the higher standards of commensurate opportunities, self-sufficiency, and maximization” (Zirkel, 2008, p. 401). Because the student in question was making passing grades at school through lip reading, she was deemed to derive reasonable benefit from the instruction.  In essence, the decision clarified that it is not the requirement of the state to increase the potential for children but to simply provide access to educational services. Romberg (2011) summarized the impact of Rowley stating that by minimizing the substantive protections of the Act, the Court instead “enshrined procedural safeguards as the Act’s animating force” (p. 427).

    Recently, in 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court revisited Rowley by answering a similar question in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (2017). In Endrew, the Court analyzed whether the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was accurate in its interpretation of what constituted an appropriate education. The Tenth Circuit had held that the school district only needed to provide an education that conferred an “educational benefit [that is] merely…more than de minimis” (p. 997) for Endrew, a boy with autism. Endrew’s parents contended that the final IEP proposed by the school was not reasonably calculated to enable Endrew to receive educational benefit. The district argued that Endrew’s past IEP’s demonstrated a pattern of minimal progress. The Supreme Court found that the de minimus standard was problematic. The Court reasoned that to meet the substantive obligation under IDEA, a school district must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances. The decision reflected the notion that IDEA demands more than de minimus. The court declined to elaborate on what “appropriate” progress will look like from case-to-case, but stated that the “adequacy of a given IEP turns on the unique circumstances of the child for whom it was created” (p. 997).

    While the outcome of the Endrew case didn’t significantly change the standard of appropriateness in Indiana, there were significant takeaways that can be gleaned. I will elaborate more on those learning points in my next publication. For now, know that the I in IEP remains individualized.


    Board of Education v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (1982). (580 U.S. ___ 2017).

    Endrew F. v. Douglas Co. Sch. Dist., 137 S. Ct.988 (2017).

    Martin, E. W., Martin, R., & Terman, D. L. (1996). The legislative and litigation history of  special

    education. The Future of Children, 6(1), 25-39.

    Neal, D., & Kirp, D. L. (1985). The allure of legalization reconsidered: The case of special

    education. Law and Contemporary Problems, 48(1), 63–87. http://doi.org/10.2307/1191640

    Romberg, J. (2011). The means justify the ends: Structural due process in special education law.

    Harvard Journal on Legislation, 48, 415-466.

    Yell, M. L., & Dragrow, E. (2000). Litigating a free appropriate public education: The Loovas

    hearings and cases. The Journal of Special Education. 37(4), 205-214.

    Zirkel, P. A. (2008). Have the amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

    razed Rowley and raised the substantive standard for free and appropriate public education? Journal of the National Association of Administrative Law Judiciary, 28(2), 397-419.


    Dr. Angie Balsley, Executive Director

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  • Legal Literacy

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 9/6/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Have you ever wondered why special education laws and procedures exist? Are you concerned that there could be laws you don’t even know about, yet should be following? The provision of special education to students with disabilities is not only a complex and individualized process involving many stakeholders, but it is also a practice that is governed by federal and state laws.

    A national survey found that because the vast majority of American teachers have not taken a course in school law, teachers are uninformed or misinformed about their basic legal rights and responsibilities and those of their students. Because of the confusion around special education law, educators may unintentionally violate students’ rights or otherwise fail to carry out legal responsibilities (Schimmel & Militello, 2007).

    This year, my series of articles in the Earlywood Special Edition will be written to build your legal literacy. Building the legal literacy of school personnel was one of my research findings related to proactive actions taken to prevent special education litigation (Balsley, 2018). I will draw heavily from the work of Dr. Janet Decker, J.D.,  IU Education Law Professor and co-author of How To Prevent Special Education Litigation: Eight Legal Lesson Plans (Umpstead, Decker, Brady, Schimmel, & Militello, 2015). Stay tuned and feel free to reach out to me with follow-up questions!


    Dr. Angie Balsley, Executive Director

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  • Support for You!

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 8/17/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Greetings Colleagues! I am excited to launch into a new school year with you! This is Earlywood’s forty-fifth year serving the students, educators, and families in our member districts. We remain committed to providing exceptional service and guidance. In this article, I will highlight three of the ways Earlywood is here to support you.

    First of all, the Earlywood Educational Services website (www.earlywood.org)  is loaded with information, links, resources, and videos. We’re constantly working to add and refresh the content on our website.  

    Secondly, Earlywood provides a fabulous selection of high-quality and personalized professional learning experiences. Check out our scheduled training sessions in our Professional Development Catalog. While you pursue the training options, note the topics available “on-demand” and our commitment to customizing trainings to meet your needs.

    Finally, the Earlywood Special Edition newsletter features information and resources to keep you refreshed on best practices within our profession. We welcome anyone to subscribe to our newsletter via the homepage of our website. Previous articles published by Earlywood employees are also archived on our website. Prior articles featured information on social emotional and social communication learning, universal design for learning, transition, and technology.

    Earlywood’s website, professional development, and newsletter are just three of the many ways we are here to support you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us and take full advantage of our services.

    Cheers to a new school year!



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