The Supreme Court issued a ruling yesterday that will increase the chances of receiving a meaningful education for every disabled student in the United States.  The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires “free appropriate public education” for ALL children.  The interpretation of “appropriate” was the issue in this particular case.

The case involved a young boy with autism in Colorado, who was not doing well in his public school, despite the provision of special education services.  His parents put him in a a private school for children with special needs and he began to thrive.  When the parents requested reimbursement from the school district because it was not able to meet the federal IDEA mandate, it was denied. This decision was upheld by the lower courts, which held that the mandate is satisfied if the child’s education provides barely more than de minimis progress. “De minimis” is a Latin phrase meaning “so minor as to merit disregard.” So the lower court concluded that school districts comply with their obligation to disabled students so long as they provide those students with a little more than nothing.

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, rejected this standard for evaluating the progress of disabled students in public schools.  Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all. The IDEA demands more.  It requires an educational program reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

This ruling will give parents and professionals working with children with disabilities greater power to advocate for these children in every school district across America.  Every child needs and deserves an appropriate education and this ruling might make it a tiny bit easier for them to receive it.