FAPE & Endrew

FAPE & Endrew: Key Insights for Parents

March 03, 202411 min read

“I've realised that at the top of the mountain, there's another mountain.” - Andrew Garfield

FAPE & Endrew: Key Insights for Parents

In the world of special education, two important ideas parents and teachers should learn are Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and the Endrew F. case. Understanding these concepts is important in special education. We'll explain what FAPE means and discuss why the Endrew F. case is so important. We'll show how these things affect the education of kids with disabilities. By understanding FAPE, parents and educators can ensure that children with disabilities receive the education and support they need to succeed. Similarly, the Endrew F. case set a precedent for higher standards in special education, emphasizing the importance of individualized education plans tailored to each student's needs. Understanding FAPE and the Endrew F. case helps parents advocate more effectively for their children's educational rights.

FAPE & Endrew F

FAPE Defined

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) is a fundamental principle in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It mandates that children with disabilities are entitled to receive a free, appropriate public education tailored to their unique needs, provided at public expense. FAPE ensures that students with disabilities have access to the same educational opportunities as their non-disabled peers, allowing them to make meaningful educational progress.

Historical Definition of FAPE

FAPE was initially established in the landmark Supreme Court case Board of Education v. Rowley (1982). Here, the Court defined FAPE as an education that is "reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits." Essentially, FAPE ensures that children with disabilities receive an education tailored to their unique needs, one that provides them with meaningful educational progress. However, it's important to note that the standard outlined in the Rowley case was often interpreted as allowing schools to provide an education that was just slightly above the minimum threshold, a concept known as "more than de minimis." This standard led to what is informally called the "Chevy versus Cadillac" argument, meaning that schools were not obligated to provide the best education possible but rather a reasonable education that would ensure the child made some level of progress. Thus, while FAPE guarantees access to education, it does not always ensure access to the highest quality education available.

Case Summary: Board of Education v. Rowley


In 1982, a significant legal case, Board of Education v. Rowley, involved a young girl named Amy who was deaf. Amy's school performance was good even without a sign language interpreter, but her parents believed she deserved more support to reach her full potential. They argued this support was necessary under the FAPE requirement of the IDEA.

Main Findings

The Supreme Court's decision introduced a standard for what FAPE means under IDEA. The Court decided that an educational program must be "reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits." This means the education provided should be carefully planned to help the child learn effectively, given their unique needs.

Clarification on "More Than De Minimis"

Over time, the term "more than de minimis" became associated with this case through interpretations by lower courts, not by the Supreme Court itself. "De minimis" is a Latin phrase meaning "about minimal things," suggesting that the benefit provided by the education supplied to the child should be more substantial than something very small or trivial.

Importance of Clarification

Understanding the evolution of the term "more than de minimis" helps highlight how legal interpretations of FAPE have developed. It sets the foundation for understanding the Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District decision in 2017, which further refined FAPE standards.

The Endrew F. Case

The Endrew F. case, decided by the Supreme Court in 2017, further clarified the concept of FAPE. Endrew F., a student with autism, attended public school in Douglas County, Colorado, until his parents determined that his individualized education program (IEP) was inadequate for his needs. They subsequently enrolled him in a private school specializing in educating children with autism, arguing that the public school's proposed IEP did not provide Endrew with a meaningful educational benefit as required by IDEA.

Main Findings and Rulings

In its decision, the Supreme Court unanimously clarified that under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), FAPE involves more than minimal educational progress for students with disabilities. The Court stated, "To meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances." This articulation firmly moved beyond the previously applied "merely more than de minimis" standard by some lower courts, setting a more rigorous benchmark for evaluating the adequacy of an IEP. This landmark ruling underscored the necessity for IEPs to be ambitiously designed and personalized, aiming for significant educational outcomes that are truly in line with each student’s unique needs and potential, thereby elevating the standard for special education services under IDEA.

Hypothetical Scenario:
Understanding FAPE and the Endrew F. Impact

Before the Endrew Case

Imagine a student named Alex who has been diagnosed with a learning disability. Alex's school develops an IEP that sets goals, aiming for him to achieve minimal progress in reading and math. The school believes that as long as Alex is making some progress, no matter how small, they are meeting their legal obligations under FAPE. Alex's parents feel that his potential is not being fully realized, but they're told the school is meeting the required standards.

After the Endrew Case

Following the Endrew F. decision, the approach to Alex's education shifts significantly. The school now understands that FAPE requires an educational program to be "reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances." With this in mind, Alex's IEP is revisited. This time, the goals are set higher, aiming for substantial progress that will allow Alex to close the gap with his peers to the best extent possible. The new IEP includes a variety of supports and services tailored to Alex's specific needs, such as specialized reading instruction and access to assistive technology, ensuring that the education provided offers him a meaningful opportunity to progress.

After reading through the hypothetical scenario of Alex and understanding the significant shift brought by the Endrew F. decision, you might be wondering where to find more information or what this means for your child’s education. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) has compiled a comprehensive FAQ document called “Questions and Answers (Q&A) on U. S. Supreme Court Case Decision Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District Re-1.” This document provides detailed answers to common questions about the case and its implications for the education of children with disabilities.

The Endrew F. decision reinforces the need for schools to offer Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that are truly tailored to enable a child to make appropriate progress considering their circumstances. This document offers insights into the Court's decision, emphasizing that every child should be able to meet challenging objectives and improve academic outcomes.


The principles of FAPE and the landmark Endrew F. decision are foundational in safeguarding and enhancing the educational rights of students with disabilities. These concepts are not just legal standards; they are commitments to ensuring every child can access an education that acknowledges their unique needs and fosters their ability to make meaningful progress.

For parents, understanding FAPE and the implications of the Endrew F. ruling is crucial. It empowers you to advocate for an education plan that is tailored to your child’s specific circumstances, one that aims for genuine growth and learning opportunities. Yet, we recognize that navigating the intricacies of special education law and fighting for your child's rights can be daunting.

That's where PASEN steps in. Our mission is to empower families of children with exceptional needs by providing the support, guidance, and advocacy necessary to navigate these challenges. Whether you need assistance crafting an effective IEP, seeking a deeper understanding of your child’s legal rights, or finding a community that supports your child’s educational journey, PASEN is here for you.

Glossary of Terms

To help ensure that everyone can follow along and understand the important concepts discussed in this post, here's a quick reference guide to some of the key terms:

  • FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education): A legal right under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensuring that children with disabilities receive an education that is free, tailored to their unique needs, and aimed at providing them with the opportunity to make meaningful educational progress.

  • IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act): A federal law that requires public schools to provide children with disabilities a free appropriate public education that is tailored to their individual needs.

  • IEP (Individualized Education Program): A document developed for each public school child who needs special education. The IEP outlines the child's specific learning needs, the services the school will provide, and how progress will be measured.

  • Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (2017): A landmark Supreme Court case that clarified the standard for what constitutes an appropriate education under FAPE, emphasizing that schools must offer an education program that is "reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child's circumstances."

  • "More Than De Minimis" Standard: A legal standard interpreted from prior court rulings, suggesting that the educational benefits provided under FAPE must be more than minimal or trivial. The Endrew F. decision refined this, requiring a more meaningful progress.

  • Supreme Court: The highest court in the United States, which has the final say on interpreting federal law, including cases involving the rights of students with disabilities under IDEA.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1: What is FAPE, and why is it important? 

A: FAPE stands for Free Appropriate Public Education. It's a legal right under IDEA, ensuring that children with disabilities receive an education tailored to their unique needs without cost to their families. FAPE is crucial because it guarantees children with disabilities access to educational opportunities that support their learning and development.

Q2: How does the Endrew F. decision affect my child's IEP?

A: The Endrew F. decision clarifies that IEPs must be designed to enable children with disabilities to make progress appropriate in light of their circumstances, rather than minimal progress. This means IEP goals should be ambitious and aimed at advancing your child's learning and growth.

Q3: What should I do if I believe my child's IEP is not adequate?

A: If you're concerned your child's IEP may not meet their needs, you should first discuss your concerns with the IEP team at your child's school. Document your concerns and the reasons you believe the IEP is inadequate. If necessary, you can seek assistance from advocacy groups like PASEN for further support and guidance.

Q4: How can I ensure my child's IEP meets the standards set by Endrew F.?

A:Work closely with your child's education team to set clear, measurable, and achievable goals that are tailored to your child's unique needs. Advocate for regular assessments to monitor progress and adjustments to the IEP as needed.

Q5: Can my child's school refuse to implement an IEP that meets the Endrew F. standard?

Schools are legally required to provide an IEP that meets the standards set by the IDEA, as clarified by the Endrew F. decision. If you believe your child's school is not complying, you may need to pursue dispute resolution options available under IDEA.

Q6: What resources are available to help me understand my child's rights under IDEA and FAPE?

A: The U.S. Department of Education’s website, advocacy groups like PASEN, and the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) offer resources and guidance. Attending workshops and training sessions on special education rights can also be beneficial.

Q7: How often should my child's IEP be reviewed or updated?

A: IEPs must be reviewed at least once a year to assess progress and make necessary adjustments. However, IEPs can be reviewed more frequently if conditions change or if it's needed to ensure the child's educational needs are being met.

Q8: What is considered "appropriate" progress under the Endrew F. standard?

A: "Appropriate" progress varies based on the child's unique circumstances, including their abilities, challenges, and potential. The progress should be meaningful, aiming to ensure the child gains academic and functional skills.

Q9: Can I request a reevaluation of my child's educational needs under IDEA?

A: Yes, parents can request a reevaluation of their child's needs if they believe the current IEP does not accurately reflect their child's abilities or if there has been a significant change in their child's needs.

Q 10: Where can I find support or advocacy if I'm having trouble with my child's school regarding their IEP?

A: Organizations like PASEN offer support, resources, and advocacy services for families navigating the IEP process. For free guidance, visit our Facebook group, IEP/504 Support & Assistance. 

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Michelle Harris

Michelle is the founder of Parent Alliance for Students with Exceptional Needs (PASEN). She is an author, trainer, and Non Attorney Special Education Advocate. (NASEA). Parent Alliance for Students with Exceptional Students (PASEN) is meant purely for educational or medical discussion. It contains information about legal or medical matters; however, it is not professional legal or medical advice and should not be treated as such. Limitation of warranties: The legal and medical information on this website is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied. PASEN makes no representations or warranties in relation to the legal or medical information on the website. Professional assistance: You must not rely on the information on this website as an alternative to legal or medical advice from your attorney or medical provider. If you have any specific questions about any legal or medical matter, you should consult your attorney or medical service provider.

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