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Petition for Review of FAPE Decision Denied

In 2018, the United States Supreme Court declined to review a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari submitted by the parents of a West Hartford student who qualifies for special education and related services. This decision marks the conclusion of a legal battle spanning over four years concerning the provision of a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”), and upholds the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2018 ruling. The original petition, filed in June 2018, sought the Supreme Court’s review of the Second Circuit’s decision in Mr. P. v. West Hartford Bd. of Ed., 885 F.3d 735 (2d Cir. 2018).

In that decision, the Second Circuit affirmed that the West Hartford school district had properly educated a high school student with an Emotional Disturbance through an alternative program known as STRIVE. This program allowed the student to meet the district’s high school graduation requirements while providing opportunities to develop his skills for postsecondary education, employment, and independent living. Additionally, the Second Circuit found that the district’s proposal of a postsecondary transition program called ACHIEVE would have also met the student’s needs for FAPE.

The Second Circuit’s decision, which upheld a district court ruling in favor of the school district from September 2016, confirmed that its established standard for FAPE, focusing on “meaningful educational benefit,” aligned with the Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling in Endrew F. v. Douglas Cnty. Sch. Dist., 137 S.Ct. 988. Therefore, the case did not require sending it back to the lower court for reconsideration under the new FAPE standard set forth in Endrew F.

The Parent’s Arguments

When petitioning the Supreme Court for review, the parents aimed to clarify that under the IDEA, students with mental health needs should receive the same standard of FAPE as those in other disability categories. Essentially, they sought confirmation that students with emotional disturbances are entitled to progress specifically tailored to their identified disability category, ensuring their advancement under the Endrew F. standard while considering their unique needs. The parents argued that the Second Circuit erred by emphasizing the student’s satisfactory grades and standardized test scores as indicators of progress, without adequately addressing his alleged lack of improvement in mental health needs and escalating social, emotional, and behavioral challenges.

This raised questions about what constitutes programming that effectively addresses a child’s mental health needs. Contrary to the parents’ assertion, West Hartford’s briefs highlighted that the IDEA does not categorically address “mental health needs” but rather recognizes children under the category of “Serious Emotional Disturbance.” The FAPE standards under IDEA mandate the identification of unique student needs and the formulation of goals and objectives that enable the child, with appropriate supports and services, to make meaningful progress towards those goals.

The Court’s Decision

In the end, the Supreme Court declined to review this case, thereby allowing the Second Circuit’s decision in favor of the school district to remain intact. The Supreme Court did not provide an explanation for its decision, but it can be inferred that the Court did not find it necessary to intervene on this issue at this time, particularly because the Second Circuit’s pre-Endrew F. standard already set a high bar of “meaningful educational progress.” It appears the Supreme Court concurred with the Second Circuit’s view that no immediate corrective action was warranted.

Additionally, it seems plausible that the Court, having recently decided Endrew F., may prefer to observe how this decision’s implications unfold before further engaging in IDEA jurisprudence with additional guidance in this complex legal domain. As we await further direction from the Supreme Court, it would be prudent to consider the arguments presented in this case and ensure that all students with disabilities, including those with mental health diagnoses, benefit from evidence-based educational practices.

Maya Murphy P.C. has proudly been included in the 2024 Edition of Best Law Firms®, ranked among the top firms in the nation. In addition, Managing Partner Joseph C. Maya has been selected to The Best Lawyers in America® 2024 for his work in Employment Law and Education Law in Connecticut. Recognition in Best Lawyers® is awarded to firms and attorneys who demonstrate excellence in the industry and is widely regarded by both clients and legal professionals as a significant honor.

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