Supreme Court’s Special Education Decision

Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

On March 22 the U.S. Supreme Court published an opinion in a significant special education case. Issuing out of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado, Endrew v. Douglas poses the question of what level of educational benefit public schools must provide to students with disabilities in order to satisfy the requirement of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The Supreme Court last heard arguments on this topic in the 1982 case Board of Education v. Rowley, in which the Court determined that an individualized education program (IEP) must be “reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits.” Since that time, federal courts across the country have issued differing opinions on the level of educational benefits that students must receive, with the majority of circuits requiring “merely more than de minimis” or “some benefit” (including the Tenth Circuit, where this case originated from). Only three circuits (one of which is the Sixth Circuit, which includes Ohio) have held to a higher standard – “meaningful benefit.”

The Supreme Court’s March 22 opinion expands upon the FAPE standard set forth in Rowley:

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.

The U.S. Department of Education had suggested in a court brief that school districts offer a program “aimed at significant educational progress in light of the child’s circumstances.” While the Supreme Court adopted “appropriate” instead of “significant” as the standard, its unanimous decision confirms that a standard requiring nothing more than a minimal educational benefit is too low.

The Court’s holding does not overrule the Rowley decision. Instead, in clearly rejecting other, higher standards, and declining the low standard adopted by the lower court, the High Court underscored Rowley’s emphasis on individualized benefits based on each child’s potential progress. Although the family sought imposition of a standard that was “substantially equal to the opportunities afforded children without disabilities,” such as attaining self-sufficiency and contributing to society in equal ways, the Court rejected that idea as “entirely unworkable” and noted that it would be “plainly at odds” with Rowley. The 1982 Rowley case also considered but rejected similar language regarding reaching the maximum potential of each student. Higher standards such as this would significantly increase costs to districts for the more than six million students with disabilities.

Although “progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances” is worded differently from the Sixth Circuit’s standard of a “meaningful benefit,” in practice it should be similar. As our circuit has held the highest standard throughout the country, districts that have held to this standard in their IEPs will likely not see a significant change in their IEPs and services. The Supreme Court’s decision may have a greater effect on special education programs in circuits whose standard has previously been lower, such as the Tenth Circuit’s standard of merely more than the minimum.

Even with the Supreme Court’s decision, this is not the end of the saga for Endrew F. Now the case goes back to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to issue a ruling consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the previous, lower standard that the circuit had used.

New State Law Expands Use and Possession of Weapons on School Grounds

Senate Bill 199, which was passed during the lame duck session and signed by the governor in December, significantly expands the rights of certain individuals to possess weapons on public school grounds.
State law generally prohibits an individual from conveying or possessing a deadly weapon or dangerous ordnance in a school safety zone (R.C. 2923.122). R.C. 2901.01 defines a school safety zone to include a school, school building, school premises, school activity, and school bus. Violators may be charged with misdemeanor or felony criminal offenses.

There are a few exceptions to this prohibition, including one that grants a school district board of education the authority to issue written permission for an individual to possess a weapon on school grounds. Additional, narrowly tailored exceptions apply for police officers, security personnel, school employees, and students under certain circumstances. The new law further expands these exceptions in three key areas.

First, the bill specifically authorizes an individual to possess a concealed handgun in a school safety zone as long as the individual either remains in a motor vehicle with the gun or leaves the gun behind in the locked vehicle. For this exception to apply, the individual must have an active concealed-carry permit or must be an active-duty member of the armed forces who is carrying a valid military identification card and documentation of successful completion of firearms training (the training must meet or exceed requirements for concealed permit holder training).

Next, the new law expands the right of law enforcement officers to carry a deadly weapon or dangerous ordnance in a school safety zone at any time regardless of whether the officer is on active duty. The prior version of the law limited such rights to law enforcement officers who were on active duty only.

Finally, the new law now permits the possession and use of an object indistinguishable from a firearm during a school safety training.

The law became effective March 21, 2017. School districts should review board policies that regulate use and possession of weapons on school grounds and should contact legal counsel with questions about how the law will impact district operations.

The Biennial Budget Bill: How and When to Inform Policymakers

Every two years a new General Assembly convenes in Ohio. The General Assembly will consider hundreds of bill and even pass many of them, but none are more important to state government than the appropriations bills that make up the budget bill.

The state budget cycle aligns with the state fiscal year of July 1 through June 30, so the legislative process for passing a budget typically runs from sometime in January through June 30 every odd-numbered year. In addition to allocating funding for Ohio’s K–12 schools, the budget bill also typically contains numerous substantive changes in the law (e.g., teacher evaluation changes, licensure requirements). Following is a high-level overview of the budget process, with a goal of informing school officials how, when, and to whom to provide input during this process. This input is critical to ensuring that legislators have the practical information they need to determine how their proposals would affect school districts. This practical information is valuable to the decision-making processes taking place at the state level during the budget process.


The governor begins by submitting the planned executive budget for the main operating appropriations bill to the General Assembly within four weeks after the new General Assembly is organized (or by March 15 if a new governor is in office). Each expense must come from a specific funding source, and each funding source may fund only certain expenses. Perhaps the most important requirement is that the budget be balanced: expenses may not exceed revenues. The governor may order spending reductions or even declare a fiscal emergency if revenues fail to meet projections. The governor typically uses the executive budget as a way to signal policy priorities and to propose new ideas. The governor’s budget is presented to the House without changes, so this is not an effective time to lobby the governor for changes.


The newly drafted budget bill (the current bill is HB 49) lands in Ohio’s House of Representatives, where it is referred to the Finance Committee and subcommittees. These committees hold hearings on the bill, when input may be provided to state representatives through written and live testimony. It is quite common for extensive changes to be made based on recommendations of the committees and subcommittees. Because of this, the House committee and subcommittee hearing phase is an especially important time for school officials and professional organizations to provide input. When extensive changes are made in committees, a substitute bill is drafted. After the bill has been considered and amended in the committee, it goes back to the House for a House floor vote.


Normally, after the House passes the bill, it is introduced in the Senate. However, because of time constraints on the budget bill, the Senate Finance Committee will usually begin its hearings on the bill while it is still in the House. The Senate Finance Committee and subcommittees hold hearings and receive input just as the House committees do. In some budget cycles, the subcommittees do not hold their own hearings. Rather, all hearings are held by the full Finance Committee. After the substitute bill is amended in the committee, it goes to the Senate for a floor vote. As with the House committee and subcommittee phase, this is an important time for school officials and professional organizations to provide input.

Conference Committee

The House must then concur in, or agree to, the Senate amendments. But this sometimes doesn’t happen. In this event, a conference committee is formed of members of both the House and the Senate. The conference committee must reach agreement on a committee report (also referred to as a compromise bill) to be voted on by the full House and Senate by the June 30 deadline. Each chamber must approve an identical budget bill. No amendments may be made by the separate chambers when they vote on the committee report, and time is very limited between the conclusion of the conference committee and the votes on the final bill. Thus, any last-minute lobbying must occur before the conclusion of the conference committee. This is sometimes when fast-moving changes are inserted or deleted from the bill.

Back to the Governor

When the legislature finally agrees to the terms of the bill, it quickly moves back to the governor to be signed. The governor may sign the bill or veto certain provisions, called a line-item veto. The reasons for the veto would be provided, and the General Assembly may, by three-fifths vote, override the veto. The veto power does not allow the governor to add to the budget bill – only to subtract. This allows for some final limited input from school officials and professional organizations.

How, and to Whom, to Provide Input

During committee hearings, the Finance Committees of both the House and the Senate receive input from state agencies, lobbyists, special interest groups, and other legislators and stakeholders. Testimony may be provided for these hearings in either written or live verbal form. Although written input will be heard, live and in person is often much more effective. Additionally, any legislator may provide input in the form of amendments. The state education associations are active during this process, so stay tuned. Ennis Britton attorneys also carefully monitor developments, using Twitter to give up-to-the-minute updates. During this important time, we can assist your district or group in preparing and delivering testimony at the Statehouse.

Follow these links to stay up-to-date on the House Finance Committee schedule and the Senate Finance Committee schedule. Follow Ennis Britton and our attorneys on Twitter to get the most current information. When the budget is completed, our firm immediately reads and holds an Administrator’s Academy in July to let you know what’s in the budget.