Charter School and Special Education Leaders File Brief Urging Supreme Court to Protect Students with Disabilities, Ensure Their Right to Achieve at High Levels

lead image

Washington, D.C. - The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) and The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (National Alliance) have filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Petitioner in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. Endrew F. is a child with autism who was removed from his Colorado public school by his parents, who felt the school was not providing the appropriate level of educational benefit the standard that school districts must confer on children with disabilities to provide them with the free appropriate public education guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

A foundational principle of the charter school movement is that all children should have access to a high-quality education that equips them to be successful inside and outside of the classroom. For this reason, NCSECS and the National Alliance are urging the Supreme Court to adopt a higher standard of educational benefit consistent with the charter school movements commitment to serving students with disabilities enrolled in charter schools, and its high expectations for all students. While recognizing that this approach may impose new requirements on all schools, including charter schools, taking this position on behalf of students with disabilities is fundamental to delivering on the promise of a high-quality public education.

The filing of the amicus brief is the first action undertaken by the National Alliances Charter School Legal Action Fund.

"The current legal standard that districts need to meet when designing educational supports and services for students with a diverse range of disabilities is inconsistent, archaic, and unacceptable," said Lauren Morando Rhim, Executive Director and Co-founder of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools. Its time to face this antiquated perception of students with disabilities and change the law so that students receive the instruction and support they need to achieve their potential.

Disparate rulings from lower courts of appeal have divided how school districts determine the level of educational benefit they must provide students who receive special education services. Some courts (namely, the third and sixth circuits) have determined that educational benefit means the student shows meaningful progress, such as passing from grade to grade with strong marks. Other courts have adopted a de minimus or just-more-than-trivial interpretation, which requires districts to provide students with disabilities with educational services only to the point of achieving some or slightly more than trivial progress such as advancing from an F grade to a D grade, or even less. The tenth circuit court of appeals, which oversaw the Endrew case, is among those that has ruled in favor of the de minimus standard.

The Supreme Courts ruling in Endrew will settle this disparity in interpretation of the educational benefit promised to students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

"The Supreme Court has the opportunity to ensure that the law upholds what research and best practice have taught us: that students with disabilities both have a right to make significant educational progress and can achieve alongside their peers," said Nina Rees, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. A ruling in favor of a higher standard will encourage schools and parents to work together to help children succeed. Under the de minimus interpretation, schools would have a diminished obligation to students with special needs. Our students deserve better.

A growing charter school movement provides new opportunities for realizing high levels of achievement for the roughly 250,000 students with disabilities who attend charter schools and who require special education services. These schools are driven by an internal ethos to hold all students to high expectations. In districts with public school choice, parents can select from among multiple possible educational approaches that are of particular benefit to certain students eligible for special education services and supports.

Morando Rhim concluded, "We hope the Court will recognize the inherent prejudice in a de minimus construct and create a current standard that will substantively raise the bar for students with disabilities. This could pay dividends not just for the individual students like Endrew but for society as whole, as we all benefit when we invest in todays students who are tomorrows adults."

For the full brief, click here.

About The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools

The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools is dedicated to ensuring that students with disabilities have equal access to charter schools and that public charter schools are designed and operated to enable all students to succeed.

About the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is the leading national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the public charter school movement. Our mission is to lead public education to unprecedented levels of academic achievement by fostering a strong charter movement. For more information, please visit