How “cogent and responsive” is your explanation?

The Supreme Court gave us three phrases in the Endrew F. v. Douglas County case that continue to resonate.  First, there was “progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”  That’s what any IEP should be designed to enable the student to achieve.

Second, there was “appropriately ambitious.” That’s what the IEP goals should be, again, taking into account each child’s circumstances. 

The third phrase has gotten less attention but is equally important.  The Court reminded lower court judges and hearing officers that they are not educators. Therefore, they should defer to the judgment calls of educators.  But the Court qualified that statement, by noting:

A reviewing court may fairly expect those authorities to be able to offer a cogent and responsive explanation for their decisions.  

In other words, the courts are not going to defer to your judgment just because you are a certified educator with 20 years of experience. No—the judge will expect you to be able to explain the decisions that you have made in a way that is “cogent and responsive.” 

This came up in Alexander G. v. Downingtown Area School District.  As the years went along the school district offered IEPs that focused less on reading fluency, and more on other goals.  The parents questioned this.  But the hearing officer sided with the school and the federal district court affirmed.  The court was comfortable deferring to the judgment calls of the educators because they offered “cogent and responsive explanations” for their decisions about IEP content.  Here’s an example:

Additionally, as Alec had transitioned from “learning to read to reading to learn,” fluency was no longer as important to assessing Alec’s reading abilities; far more important were his decoding accuracy and comprehension, which showed strong improvement.

This one was decided on April 26, 2021by the federal court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and can be found on Special Ed Connection at 78 IDELR 213.


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Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!