The Endrew Decision’s Impact on the Education of Students with Autism: Implications for School Practice and Policy

Poster Presentation
Saturday, May 4, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
S. Hurwitz, Special Education, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
Background: Learners with autism, like all students with disabilities, are entitled to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE), a component of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Historically, the free and public components have been fairly straightforward; however, the appropriate aspect has been at the center of contentious lawsuits. In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court provided guidance regarding what constitutes an appropriate education for students with disabilities in Endrew v. Douglas County. The Endrew case centered around a student with autism, and we use it to discuss how the ruling will impact the education of students with autism and to offer recommendations for practice and policy.

Objectives: This study helps education researchers, school leaders, teachers, and families to understand the legal background of special education law and how Endrew may alter it going forward.

Methods: We analyze the legal history of the educational benefit standard prior to Endrew, and discuss the split in the lower courts that led to the Supreme Court hearing this case. Examining both sides, we debate whether Endrew is the educational "game changer" that disability advocates hope it will be.

Results: We make recommendations for schools and education policy in light of the fact that Endrew's family received tuition reimbursement for the specialized (ABA-based) private school that they enrolled him in after he failed to make progress at his local public school. After the ruling, more families may request placement in similar private or charter schools. We find that the decision may not alter the educational approach for students with autism who are progressing alongside their peers. On the other hand, it elevates academic and functional expectations for students who, like Endrew, are placed in self-contained classrooms or are not making grade-level progress.

Conclusions: We provide a list of suggestions for schools: Schools should prioritize behavior management in order to facilitate academic and functional progress at school; IEP goals should be ambitious and measurable to ensure that students are making annual progress; teachers should be trained in evidence-based practices that work for students with autism. There may be an increase in the number of families requesting evidence-based practices, like ABA, from the public school system, and/or placement in alternative settings like specialized charter and private schools.

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See more of: Education