The Evolution of Inclusion
Federal Appeals Court to Decide if Student with Down Syndrome Can Stay in General Education Classroom
The Endrew case continues to impact the field of special education law, most recently in the 9th Circuit. The latest case, R.M. v. Gilbert School District, revolves around a 2nd grade boy in Arizona with Down syndrome whose parents refused to send him to a self-contained classroom at a different school in the middle of the year. His parents argue he was making real progress at his homeschool in the general education program.
R.M. was attending his neighborhood home school, in a regular class with supplemental special education instruction in the resource room pursuant to his kindergarten transition IEP. His parents believed their son was demonstrating progress on his IEP goals, including the majority of the goals that were implemented by the resource teacher. R.M.'s resource teacher believed that his communication skills greatly had improved from two-word phrases, limited to things and people he knew about such as his mom, dad, or sister, to three and four-word phrases. In addition, his parents believe that their son’s behavior had also significantly improved in the regular classroom setting, and relay that R.M.'s impact on his peers was described by his kindergarten teacher as: “amazing.”
Despite this progress, District staff abruptly proposed changing R.M.’s plan just months into his kindergarten year, and well before the end date on the kindergarten IEP goals. The new proposal insisted R.M. should receive additional pull-out special education instruction in math and writing, and that all of his special education service minutes should be provided in a self-contained special education classroom at another school.
At the time these changes were proposed, “per the IEP, [District staff] had met [Student’s] needs,” but the District felt that the self-contained classroom would be better for Student, enabling him to get “more services at his level with peers in a small environment that could have been better for him.” The parents opposed the District's proposed change, arguing it amounted to a change of placement without the proper evaluation of his progress under his current IEP. The District argued it was just a change in location.
Enter the Endrew Decision
And this is where Endrew comes in. Endrew reminds us that schools must provide special education "reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” Generally, this will mean an educational program designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade. But even if that is not possible, Endrew confirms that schools must provide a program that is “appropriately ambitious in light of” the child’s circumstances. “The goals may differ,” Justice Roberts stressed, “but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives.” For these students, progress may be measured against “alternate academic achievement standards” designed to promote further education, work, and independence.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals must now decide if the Gilbert School District made a change in placement and threatened the student’s access to a Free and Appropriate Education in the Least Restrictive Environment as the parents argue, or if it was simply a change in location.