United States Supreme Court
458 U. S. 176
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE HENDRICK HUDSON CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT,
WESTCHESTER COUNTY, et al.,
ROWLEY, by her parents, ROWLEY et al.
a Writ of Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for The
Second Circuit. 632 F. 2d 945, reversed and remanded.
Burger, C.J., and Brennan, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist,
Stevens, O'Connor, JJ.
J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C. J.,
and POWELL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed
an opinion, concurring in the judgment.
WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL,
REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
case presents a question of statutory interpretation Petitioners
contend that the Court of Appeals and the District Court misconstrued
the requirements imposed by the Congress upon States which receive
federal funds under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act.
We agree and reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (Act), 20 U.S.C.
1401 et seq., provides federal money to assist state and local agencies
in educating handicapped children, and conditions such funding upon
a States compliance with extensive goals and procedures. The Act
represents an ambitious federal effort to promote the education
of handicapped children, and was passed in response to Congress'
perception that a majority of handicapped in the United States "were
either totally excluded from schools or [were] sitting idly in regular
classrooms awaiting the time when they were old enough to 'drop
out.'" H.R. Rep. No. 94-332. P.2 (1975). The Acts evolution
and major provisions shed light on the question of statutory interpretation
which is at he heart of this case.
first addressed the problem of education the handicapped in 1966
when it amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965
to establish a grant program "for the purpose of assisting
the States in the initiation, expansion, and improvement of programs
and projects . . . for the education of handicapped children."
Pub. L. No. 89-750, 161, 80 Stat. 1204 (1966). That program was
repealed in 1970 by the Education for the Handicapped Act, Pub.
L. No. 91-230, 84 Star. XXX 175, Part B of which established a grant
program similar in purpose to the repealed legislation. Neither
the 1966 nor 1970 legislation contained specific guidelines for
state use of the grant money; both were aimed primarily at stimulating
the States to develop educational resources and to train personnel
for educating the handicapped.1
with the progress being made under these earlier enactments, and
spurred by two district court decisions holding that handicapped
children should be given access to a public education, Congress
in 1974 greatly increased federal funding for education of the handicapped
and for the first time required recipient States to adopt "a
goal of providing full educational opportunities to all handicapped
children." Pub. L. 93-380, 88 Stat. 579, 583 (1974) (the 1974
statue). The 1974 statute was recognized as an interim measure only,
adopted "in order to give the Congress an additional year in
which to study what if any additional Federal assistance [was] required
to enable the States to meet the needs of handicapped children."
H.R. Rep. No. 94-332, supra, p.4. The ensuing year of study produced
the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.
order to qualify for federal financial assistance under the Act,
a State must demonstrate that it "has in effect a policy that
assures all handicapped children the right to a free appropriate
public education." 20 U.S.C. 1412(1). That policy must be reflected
in a state plan submitted to and approved by the Commissioner of
Education, 3 1413, which describes in detail the goals, programs,
and timetables under which the State intends to educate handicapped
children within its borders. 1412. 1413. States receiving money
under the Act must provide education to the handicapped by priority,
first "to handicapped children who are not receiving an education"
and second "to handicapped children . . . with the most severe
handicaps who are receiving an inadequate education," 1413(3),
and to the maximum extent appropriate" must educate handicapped
children "with children who are not handicapped." 1412(5).
4 The Act broadly defines "handicapped children" to include
"mentally retarded, hard of hearing, deaf, speech impaired,
visually handicapped, seriously emotionally disturbed, orthopedically
impaired, [and] other health impaired children, [and] children with
specific learning disabilities." 1401(1).5
"free appropriate public education" required by the Act
is tailored to the unique needs of the handicapped child by means
of an 'individualized educational program" (IEP). 1401(18).
The IEP, which is prepared at a meeting between a qualified representative
of the local educational agency, the child's teacher, the child
parents or guardian, and, where appropriate, the child, consists
of a written document containing
a student of the present levels of educational performance of the
(B) a statement of annual goals, including short-term instructional
(C) a statement of the specific educational services to be provided
to such child, and the extent to which such child will be able to
participate in regular educational programs,
(D) the projected date for initiation and anticipated duration of
such service, and
(E) appropriate objective criteria and evaluation procedures and
schedules for determining, on at least an annual basis, whether
instructional objectives are being achieved." 1401(19).
or regional educational agencies must review, and where appropriate
revise, each child's IEP at least annually. 1404(a)(5). See also
addition to the state plan and the IEP already described, the Act
imposes extensive procedural requirements upon State receiving federal
funds under its provisions. Parents or guardians of handicapped
children must be notified of any proposed change in "the identification,
evaluation, or educational placement of the child or the provision
of a free appropriate public education to the child," and must
be permitted to being a complaint about "any matter relating
to" such evaluation and education. 1415(b)(1)(D) and (E).6
Complaints brought by parents or guardians must be resolved at "an
impartial due process hearing," and appeal to the State educational
agency must be provided if the initial hearing is held at the local
or regional level. 1415(B)(2) and (c)7 Thereafter, "any party
aggrieved by the findings and decisions" of the state administrative
hearing has "the right to bring a civil action with respect
to the complaint . . .in any State court of competent jurisdiction
or in a district court of the United Stated without regard to the
amount in controversy." 1415(e)(2).
although the Act leaves to the States the primary responsibility
for developing and executing educational programs for handicapped
children, it imposes significant requirements to be followed in
the discharge of that responsibility. Compliance is assured by provisions
permitting the withholding of federal funds upon determination that
a participating state or local agency has failed to satisfy the
requirements of the Act, 1414(b)(A), 1416, and by the provision
for judicial review. At present, all States except New Mexico receive
federal funds under the portions of the Act at issue today. Brief
for the United States as Amicus Curiae 2, n. 2.
case arose in connection with the education of Amy Rowley, a deaf
student at the Furnace Woods School in the Hendrick Hudson Central
School District, Peekskill, New York. Amy has minimal residual hearing
and is an excellent lip reader. During the year before she began
attending furnace Woods, a meeting between her parents and school
administrators resulted in a decision to place in a regular kindergarten
class in order to determine what supplement services would be necessary
to her education. Several members of the school administration prepared
for Amy's arrival by attending a course in sign-language interpretation,
and a teletype machine was installed in the principal's office to
facilitate communication with her parents who are also deaf.
the end of the trial period it was determined that Amy should remain
in the kindergarten class, but that she should be provided with
an FM hearing aid which would amplify words spoken into a wireless
receiver by the teacher or fellow students during certain classroom
activities. Amy successfully completed her kindergarten year.
required by the Act, an IEP was prepared for Amy during the fall
of her first-grade year. The IEP provided that Amy should be educated
in a regular classroom at Furnace Woods, should continue to use
the FM hearing aid, and should receive instruction from a tutor
for the deaf for one hour each day and from a speech therapist for
three hours each week. The Rowleys agreed with the IEP but insisted
that Amy also be provided a qualified sign-language interpreter
in all of her academic classes. Such an interpreter had been placed
in Amy's kindergarten class for a two-week experimental period,
but the interpreter had reported that Amy did not need his services
at that time. The school administrators likewise concluded that
Amy did not need such an interpreter in her first-grade classroom.
They reached this conclusion after consulting the school district's
Committee on the Handicapped, which had received expert evidence
from Amy's parents on the importance of a sign-language interpreter,
received testimony from Amy's teacher and other persons familiar
with her academic and social progress, and visited a class for the
their request for an interpreter was denied, the Rowleys demanded
and received a hearing before an independent examiner. After receiving
evidence from both sides, the examiner agreed with the administrators'
determination that an interpreter was not necessary because "Amy
was achieving educationally, academically, and socially" without
such assistance. App. to Pet. for Cert. F-22. The examiner's decision
was affirmed on appeal by the New York Commissioner of Education
on the basis of substantial evidence in the record. Id., at E-4.
Pursuant to the Act's provision for judicial review, the Rowleys
then brought an action in the United States District Court for the
Southern District of New York, claiming that the administrators'
denial of the sign-language interpreter constituted a denial of
the "free appropriate public education" guaranteed by
District Court found that Amy "is a remarkably well adjusted
child" who interacts and communicates well with her classmates
and has "developed an extraordinary rapport" with her
teachers. 483 F. Supp, 528, 531. It also found that "she performs
better than the average child in her class and is advancing easily
from grade to grade," id., at 534, but "that she understands
considerably less of what goes on in class than she would if she
were not deaf" and thus "is not learning as much, or performing
as well academically, as she would without her handicap," id.,
at 532. This disparity between Amy's achievement and her potential
led the court to decide that she was not receiving a "free
appropriate public education" which the court defined as "an
opportunity to achieve [her] full potential commensurate with the
opportunity provided to other children." id., at 534. According
to the District Court, such a standard "requires that the potential
of the handicapped child be measured and compared to his or her
performance, and that the remaining differential or 'shortfall'
be compared to the shortfall experienced by nonhandicapped children.'
Ibid. The District Court's definition arose from its assumption
that the responsibility for "giving content to the requirement
of an 'appropriate education'" had 'been left entirely to the
federal courts and the hearing officers.' Id., at 533.8
divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second
Circuit affirmed. The Court of Appeals "agree[d] with the [D]istrict
[C]ourt's conclusions of law," and held that its 'findings
of fact [were] not clearly erroneous." 632 F. 2d 945, 947 (1980).
granted certiorari to review the lower courts' interpretation of
the Act. Such review requires us to consider two questions: What
is meant by the Act's requirement of a "free appropriate public
education"? And what is the role of state and federal courts
in exercising the review granted by 1415 of the Act? We consider
these questions separately.9
is the first case in which this Court has been called upon to interpreter
any provision of the Act. As noted previously, the District Court
and Court of Appeals concluded that "the Act itself does nor
define 'appropriate education,'" 483 F. Supp., at 533, but
leaves "to the courts and the hearing officers" the responsibility
of "giv[ing] content to the requirement of an appropriate education."
Ibid. see also 632 F. 2d, at 947.
contend that the definition of the phrase "free appropriate
public education" used by the courts below overlooks the definition
of the phrase actually found in the Act. Respondents agree that
the Act defines "free appropriate public education," but
contend that the statutory definition is not "functional"
and thus "offers judges no guidance in their consideration
of controversies involving the 'identification, evaluation, or educational
placement of the child or the provision of a free appropriate public
education," Brief for Respondents 28. The United States, appearing
as amicus curaie on behalf of respondents, states that '[a]though
the Act includes definitions of 'free appropriate public education'
and other related terms, the statutory definitions do not adequately
explain what is meant by 'appropriate," Brief for United States
as Amicus Curiae. 13.
are loath to conclude that Congress failed to offer any assistance
in defining the meaning of the principal substantive phrase used
in the Act. It is beyond dispute that, contrary to the conclusions
of the courts below, the Act does expressly define "free appropriate
term ' free appropriate public education' means special education
and related services which
(A) have been provided at public expenses, under public supervision
and direction, and without charge,
(B) meet the standards of the State educational agency,
(C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary, or secondary school
education in the State involved, and
(D) are provided in conformity with the individualized education
program required under section 1414(a)(5) of this title." 1401(18)
education," as referred to in this definition, means "specially
designed instruction, at no cost to parents or guardians, to meet
the unique needs of a handicapped child, including classroom instruction,
instruction in physical education, home instruction, and instruction
in hospitals and institutions." 1401(16). "Related services"
are defined as "transportation, and such developmental, corrective,
and other supportive services...as may be required to assist a handicapped
child to benefit from special education." 1401(17). 10
many statutory definitions, this one tends toward the cryptic rather
than the comprehensive, but that is scarcely a reason for abandoning
the quest for legislative intent. Whether or not the definition
is a "functional" one, as respondents contend it is not,
it is the principal tool which Congress has given us for parsing
the critical phrase of the Act, we think more must be made of it
than either respondents or the United States seems willing to admit.
to the definitions contained in the Act, a "free appropriate
public education" consists of educational instruction specially
designed to meet the unique needs of the handicapped child, supported
by such services as are necessary to permit the child "to benefit"
from the instruction. Almost as a checklist for adequacy under the
Act, the definition also requires that such instruction and services
be provided at public expense and under public supervision, meet
the State's educational standards, approximate the grade levels
used in the State's regular education, and comport with the child's
IEP. Thus, if personalized instruction is being provided with sufficient
supportive services to permit the child to benefit from the instruction,
and the other items on the definitional checklist are satisfied,
the child is receiving a "free appropriate public education"
as defined by the Act.
portions of the statute also shed light on congressional intent.
Congress found that of the roughly eight million handicapped children
in the United States at the time of enactment, one million were
"excluded entirely form the public school system" and
more than half were receiving an inappropriate education. Note to
1401. In addition, as mentioned in Part I, the Act requires States
to extend educational services first to those children who are receiving
no education and second to those children who are receiving an "inadequate
education." 1412(3). When these express statutory findings
and priorities are read together with the Act's extensive procedural
requirements and its definition of "free appropriate public
education," the face of the statute evinces a congressional
intent to bring previously excluded handicapped children into public
education systems of the States and to require the States to adopt
procedures which would result in individualized consideration of
and instruction for each child.
absent from the language of the statue is any substantive standard
prescribing the level of education to be accorded handicapped children.
Certainly the language of the statute contains no requirement like
the one imposed by the lower courts-that States maximize the potential
of handicapped children "commensurate with the opportunity
provided to other children." 483 F. Supp., at 534. That standard
was expounded by the District court without reference to the statutory
definitions or even to the legislative history of the Act. Although
we find the statutory definition of "free appropriates public
education" to be helpful in our interpretation of the Act,
there remains the question of whether the legislative history indicates
a congressional intent that such education meet some additional
substantive standard. For an answer, we turn to that history.
suggested in Part I, federal support for education of the handicapped
is a fairly recent development. Before passage of the Act some States
has passed laws to improve the educational services afford handicapped
children 12, but many of these children were excluded completely
form any form of public education or were left to fend for themselves
in classrooms designed for the education of their nonhandicapped
peers. The House Report begins by emphasizing this exclusion and
misplacement, noting that millions of handicapped children "were
either totally excluded form schools or [were] sitting idly in regular
classrooms awaiting the time when they were old enough to 'drop
out.'" H.R. Rep, No. 94-332, supra, at 2. See also S. Rep.
No. 94-168, p. 8 (1975). One of the Act's two principal sponsors
in the Senate urged its passage in similar terms:
much progress has been made in the last few years, we can take no
solace in that progress until all handicapped children are, in fact,
receiving an education. The most recent statistics provided by the
Bureau of Education for the Handicapped estimate that ... 1.75 million
handicapped children do not receive any educational services, and
2.5 million handicapped children are not receiving an appropriate
education." 121 Cong. Rec. 1946 (1975) (remarks of Sen. Williams).
concern, stressed repeatedly throughout the legislative history
13, confirms the impression conveyed by the language of statute:
By passing the Act, Congress sought primarily to make public education
available to handicapped children. But in seeking to provide such
access to public education, Congress did not impose upon the states
any greater substantive educational standard than would be necessary
to make such access meaningful. Indeed, Congress expressly "recognized
that in many instances the process of providing special education
and related services to handicapped children is not guaranteed to
produce any particular outcome." S. Rep. No. 94-168, supra,
at 11. Thus, the intent of the Act was more to open the door of
public education to handicapped children on appropriate terms than
to guarantee any particular level of education once inside.
the House and the Senate reports attribute the impetus for the Act
and its predecessors to two federal court judgments rendered in
1971 and 1972. As the Senate Report states, passage of the act "followed
a series of landmark court cases establishing in law the right to
education for all handicapped children." S. Rep. No. 94-168,
supra, at 6.14 The first case, Pennsylvania Association for Retarded
Children v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (PARC), 334 F. Supp. 1257
(1971) 343 F. Supp. 279(ED pa 1972), was a suit on behalf of retarded
children challenging the constitutionality of a Pennsylvania statue
which acted to exclude them from public education and training.
The case ended in a consent decree which enjoined the State from
"den[ying] to any mentally retarded child access to a free
public program of education and training." 334 F. Supp. at
1258 (emphasis added).
was followed by Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia,
343 F. Supp. 866 (DC 1972), a case in which the plaintiff handicapped
children had been excluded from the District of Columbia public
schools. The court judgment, quoted at page 6 of the Senate Report
on the Act, provided.
no handicapped child eligible for publicly supported education in
the District of Columbia public schools shall be excluded from a
regular school assignment by a Rule, policy, or practice of the
Board of Education of the District of Columbia or its agents unless
such child is provided
(a) adequate alternative educational services suited to the child's
needs, which may include special education or tuition grants, and
(b) a constitutionally adequate prior hearing and periodic review
of the child's status, progress, and the adequacy of any educational
alternative." 348 F. Supp., at 878 (emphasis added).
and PARC both held that handicapped children must be given access
to an adequate, publicly supported education. Neither case purports
to require any particular substantive level of education.15 Rather,
like the language of the Act, the cases set forth extensive procedures
to be followed in formulating personalized educational programs
for handicapped children. See 348 F. Supp., at 878-883; 334 F. Supp.,
at 1258-1267.16. The fact that both PARC and Mills are discussed
at length in the legislative reports suggest that the principles
which they established are the principles which, to a significant
extent, guided the drafters of the Act. Indeed, immediately after
discussing these cases the Senate Report describes the 1974 statue
as having "incorporated the major principles of the right to
education cases." S. Rep. No 94-168, supra, at 8. Those principles
in turn became the basis of the Act, which itself was designed to
effectuate the purposes of the 1974 statue. H.R. Rep. No. 94-332,
supra, at 5.18
the Act imposes no clear obligation upon recipient States beyond
the requirement that handicapped children receive some form of specialized
education is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that Congress,
in explaining the need for the Act, equated an "appropriate
education" to the receipt of some specialized educational services.
Senate report states: 'The most recent statistics provided by the
Bureau of education for the Handicapped estimate that of the more
than 8 million children...with handicapping conditions requiring
special education and related services, only 3.9 million such children
are receiving an appropriate education." S. Rep. No. 94-332,
supra, at 8. 19 This statement, which reveals Congress' view that
3.9 million handicapped children were "receiving an appropriate
education" in 1975, is followed immediately in the Senate Report
by a table showing that 3.9 million handicapped children were "served
" in 1975 and a slightly larger numbers were "unserved."
A similar statement and table appear in the House report. H.R. Rep.
No. 94-332, supra, at 11-12.
is evident from the legislative history that the characterization
of handicapped children as "served" referred to children
who were receiving some form of specialized educational services
from the States, and that the characterization of children as "unserved"
referred to those who were receiving no specialized educational
services. For example, a letter sent to the United States Commissioner
of Education by the House Committee on Education and Labor, signed
by two key sponsors of the Act in the House, asked the commissioner
to identify the number of handicapped " children served"
in each State. The letter asked for statistics on the number of
children "being served" in various types of "special
education programs" and the number of children who were not
"receiving educational services." Hearing on S. 6 before
the Subcommittee on the Handicapped of the Senate Committee on Labor
and Public Welfare, 94th Cong. 1st Sess., 205-207 (1975). Similarly,
Senator Randolph, one of the Act 's principal sponsors in the Senate,
noted that roughly one-half of the handicapped children in the United
States "are receiving special educational services." Id.,
at 1.20 By characterizing the 3.9 million handicapped children who
were "served" as children who were receiving an appropriate
education," the Senate and House reports unmistakably disclose
Congress' perception of the type of education required by the Act:
an "appropriate education" is provided when personalized
educational services are provided.21
contend that "the goal of the Act is to provide each handicapped
child with an equal educational opportunity." Brief for Respondents
35. We think, however, that the requirement that a State provides
specialized educational services to handicapped children generates
no additional requirement that the services so provided be sufficient
to maximize each child's potential "commensurate with the opportunity
provided other children."
and the United States correctly note that Congress sought "to
provide assistance to the States carrying out their responsibilities
under the Constitution of the United States to provide equal protection
of the laws." S. Rep. No. 94-168, supra, at 13.22 But we do
not think that such statements imply a congressional intent to achieve:
strict equality of opportunity or services.
educational opportunities provided by our public school systems
undoubtedly differ from student to student, depending upon a myriad
of factors that might affect a particular student's ability to assimilate
information presented in the classroom. The requirement that States
provide "equal" educational opportunities would thus seem
to present an entirely unworkable standard requiring impossible
measurements and comparisons. Similarly, furnishing handicapped
children with only such services as are available to nonhandicapped
children would in all probability fall short of the statutory requirement
of "free appropriate public education." To require, on
the other hand, the furnishing of every special service necessary
to maximize each handicapped child's potential is, we think, further
than Congress intended to go. Thus to speak in terms of "equal"
services in one instance give less than what is required by the
Act and in another instance more. The theme of the Act is "free
appropriate public education," a phrase which is too complex
to be captured by the word "equal" whether on is speaking
of opportunities or services.
legislative conception of the requirements of equal protection was
undoubtedly informed by the two district court decisions referred
to above. But cases such as Mills and PARC held simply that handicapped
children may not be excluded from entirely public education. In
Mills, the District Court said:
sufficient funds are not available to finance all of the services
and programs that are needed and desirable in the system, then the
available funds must be expended equitably in such a manner that
no child is entirely excluded from a publicly supported education
consistent with his needs and ability to benefit therefrom."
348 F Supp., at 876.
PARC Court used similar language, saying "[i]t is the commonwealth's
obligation to place each mentally retarded child in a free, public
program of education and training appropriate to the child's capacity.
. ." 334 F. Supp., at 1260. The right of access to free public
education enunciated by these cases is significantly different from
any notion of absolute equality of opportunity regardless of capacity.
To the extent the Congress might have looked further than these
cases which are mentioned in the legislative history at the time
of enactment of the Act, this Court has held at least twice that
the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment does not
require States to expend equal financial resources on the education
of each child. San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S.
1(1975); Mcinnis v. Shapiro, 238 F.Supp. 327 (ND Ill. 1968), aff'd
sub nom, Mcinnis v. Ogilvie, 394 U.S. 322 (1969).
explaining the need for federal legislation, the House Report noted
that "no congressional legislation has required a precise guarantee
for handicapped children, i.e., a basic floor of opportunity that
would bring into compliance all school districts with the constitutional
right of equal protection with respect to handicapped children."
H.R. Rep. No. 94-332, supra, at 14. Assuming that the Act was designed
to fill the need identified in the House Report-that is, to provide
a "basic floor of opportunity' consistent with equal protection-neither
the Act nor its history persuasively demonstrate that Congress thought
that equal protection required anything more than equal access.
Therefore, Congress' desire to provide specialized educational services,
even in furtherance of "equality," cannot be read as imposing
any particular substantive educational standard upon the States.
District Court and the Court of Appeals thus erred when they held
that the Act requires New York to maximize the potential of each
handicapped child commensurate with the opportunity provided nonhandicapped
children. Desirable though that goal might be, it is not the standard
that Congress imposed upon States which receive funding under the
Act. Rather, Congress sought primarily to identify and evaluate
handicapped children, and to provide them with access to a free
in the congressional purpose of providing access to a "free
appropriate public education" is the requirement that the education
to which access is provided be sufficient to confer some educational
benefit upon the handicapped child. It would do little good for
Congress to spend millions of dollars in providing access to public
education only to have the handicapped child receive no benefit
from that education. The statutory definition of "free appropriate
public education," in addition to requiring that States provide
each child with "specially designed instruction," expressly
requires the provision of "such . . . supportive services .
. . as may be required to assist a handicapped child to benefit
from special education." 1401(17) (emphasis added). We therefore
conclude that the "basic floor of opportunity" provided
by the Act consists of access to specialized instruction and related
services which are individually designed to provide educational
benefit to the handicapped child.23
determination of when handicapped children are receiving sufficient
educational benefits to satisfy the requirements of the Act presents
a more difficult problem. The Act requires participating States
to educate a wide spectrum of handicapped children, from the marginally
hearing-impaired to the profoundly retarded palsied. Xxx It is clear
that the benefits obtainable by children at one end of the spectrum
will differ dramatically form those obtainable by children at the
other end, with infinite variations in between. One child may have
little difficulty competing successfully in an academic setting
with nonhandicapped children while another child may encounter great
difficulty in acquiring even the most basic of self-maintenance
skills. We do not attempt today to establish any one test for determining
the adequacy of educational benefits conferred upon all children
covered by the Act. Because in this case we are presented with a
handicapped child who is receiving substantial specialized instruction
and related services, and who is performing above average in the
regular classrooms of a public school system, we confine our analysis
to the situation.
Act requires participating States to educate handicapped children
with nonhandicapped children whenever possible.24 When the "mainstreaming"
preference of the Act has been met and a child is being educated
in the regular classrooms of a public school system, the system
itself monitors the educational progress of the child. Regular examinations
are administered, grades are awarded, and yearly advancement to
higher grade levels is permitted for those children who attain an
adequate knowledge of the course material. The grading and advancement
system thus constitutes an important factor in determining educational
benefit. Children who graduate from our public school systems are
considered by our society to have been "educated" at least
to the grade level they have completed, and access to an "education"
for handicapped children is precisely what Congress sought to provide
in the Act.25
the language of the Act and its legislative history are considered
together, the requirements imposed by Congress become tolerably
clear. Insofar as a State is required to provide a handicapped child
with a "free appropriate public education," we hold that
it satisfies this requirements by providing personalized instruction
with sufficient support services to permit the child to benefit
educationally from that instruction. Such instruction and services
must be provided at public expense, must meet the State's educational
standards, must approximate the grade levels used in the State's
regular education, and must comport with the child's IEP. In addition,
the IEP, and therefore the personalized instruction, should be formulated
in accordance with the requirements of the Act, and if the child
is being educated in the regular classrooms of the public education
system, should be reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve
passing marks and advance from grade to grade.26
mentioned in Part I, the Act permits "any party aggrieved by
the findings and decision" of the state administrative hearings
"to bring a civil action "in" any State Court of
competent jurisdiction or in a district court of the United States
without regard to the amount in controversy." 1415(e)(2). The
complaint, and therefore the civil action, may concern "any
matter relating to the identification, evaluation, or educational
placement of the child, or the provision of a free appropriate public
education to such child." 1415(b)(1)(E). In reviewing the complaint,
the Act provides that a court "shall receive the record of
the state administrative proceedings, shall hear additional evidence
at the request of a party, and, basing its decision on the preponderance
of the evidence, shall grant such relief as the court determines
is appropriate." 1415(e)(2).
parties disagree sharply over the meaning of these provisions, petitioners
contending that courts are given only limited authority to review
for state compliance with the Act's procedural requirements and
no power to review the substance of the state program, and respondents
contending that the Act requires courts to exercise de novo review
over state educational decisions and policies. We find petitioners'
contention unpersuasive, for Congress expressly rejected provisions
that would have so severely restricted the role of reviewing courts.
In substituting the current language of the statue for language
that would have made state administrative findings conclusive if
supported by substantial evidence, the Conference Committee explained
that courts were to make "independent decisions based on a
preponderance of the evidence." S. Conf. Rep.No. 94-455, supra,
at 50. (See also 121 Cong. Rec. 37416 (1975), remarks of Senator
although we find that this grant of authority is broader than claimed
by petitioners, we think the fact that it is found in 1415 of the
Act, which is entitled "Procedural Safeguards," is not
without significance when the elaborate and highly specific procedural
safeguards embodied in 1415 are contrasted with the general and
somewhat imprecise substantive admonitions contained in the Act,
we think that the importance Congress attached to these procedural
safeguards cannot be gainsaid. It seems to us no exaggeration to
say that Congress placed every bit as much emphasis upon compliance
with procedures giving parents and guardians a large measure of
participation at every stage of the administrative process, see,
e.g. 1415(a)-(d), as it did upon the measurement of the resulting
IEP against a substantive standard. We think that the congressional
emphasis upon full participation of concerned parties throughout
the development of the IEP, as well as the requirements that state
and local plans be submitted to the Commissioner for approval, demonstrate
the legislative conviction that adequate compliance with the procedures
prescribed would in most cases assure much if not all of what Congress
wished in the way of substantive content in an IEP.
the provision that a reviewing court base its decision on the "preponderance
of the evidence" is by no means an invitation to the court
to substitute their own notions of sound educational policy for
those of the school authorities which they review. The very importance
which Congress has attached to compliance with certain procedures
in the preparation of an IEP would be frustrated if a court were
permitted simply to set state decisions aside. The fact that 1415(e)
requires that the reviewing court "receive the records of the
[state] administrative proceedings" carries with it the implied
requirement that due weight shall be given to these proceedings.
And we find nothing in the Act to suggest that merely because Congress
was rather sketchy in establishing substantive requirements, as
opposed to procedural requirements for the preparation of an IEP,
it intended that reviewing courts should have a free hand to impose
substantive standards of review which cannot be derived from the
Act itself. In short, the statutory authorization to grant "such
relief as the court determines is appropriate' cannot be read without
reference to the obligations, largely procedural in nature, which
are imposed upon recipient States by Congress.
a court's inquiry in suits brought under 1415(e)(2) is twofold.
First, has the State complied with the procedures set forth in the
Act?27 And second, is the individualized educational program developed
through the Act's procedures reasonably calculated to enable the
child to receive educational benefits?28 If these requirements are
met, the State has complied with the obligations imposed by Congress
and the courts can require no more.
assuring that the requirements of the Act have been met, courts
must be careful to avoid imposing their view of preferable educational
methods upon the States.29 The primary responsibility for formulating
the education to be accorded a handicapped child, and for choosing
the educational method most suitable to the child's needs, was left
by the Act to state and local educational agencies in cooperation
with the parents or guardian of the child. The Act expressly charges
States with the responsibility of "acquiring and disseminating
to teachers and administrators of programs for handicapped children
significant information derived form educational research, demonstration,
and similar projects, and of adopting, where appropriate, promising
educational practices and materials." 1413(a)(3). In the face
of such a clear statutory directive, it seems highly unlikely that
congress intended courts to overturn a State's choice of appropriate
educational theories in a proceeding conducted pursuant to 1415(e)(2).30
previously have cautioned that courts lack the "specialized
knowledge and experience" necessary to resolve "persistent
and difficult questions of educational policy." San Antonio
School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 42 (1973). We think that
Congress shared that view when it passed the Act. As already demonstrated,
Congress' intention was not that the Act displace the primacy of
States in the field of education, but that the states receive funds
to assist them in extending their educational systems to handicapped.
Therefore, once a court determines that the requirements of the
Act have been met, questions of methodology are for resolution by
a child's education to state and local agencies does not leave the
child without protection. Congress sought to protect individual
children by providing for parental involvement in the development
of State plans and policies, supra, at 4-5 and n. 6, and in the
formulation of the child's individual educational program. As the
Senate Report states:
Committee recognizes that in may instances the process of providing
special education and related services to handicapped children is
not guaranteed to produce any particular outcome. By changing the
language of the provision relating to individualized educational
programs to emphasize the process of parent and child involvement,
and to provide a written record of reasonable expectations, the
Committee intends to clarify that such individualized planning conferences
are a way to provide parent involvement and protection to assure
that appropriate services are provided to a handicapped child. S.
Rep. No.94-168, supra, at 11-12. See also S. Conf. Rep. No. 94-445,
p. 30 (1975); 45 CFR 121a.345 (1980).
this very case demonstrates, parents and guardians will not lack
ardor in seeking to ensure that handicapped children receive all
the benefits to which they are entitled by the Act.31
these principles to the facts of this case, we conclude that the
court of Appeals erred in affirming the decision of the District
Court. Neither the District Court nor the Court of Appeals found
that petitioners had failed to comply with the procedures of the
Act, and the findings of neither court would support a conclusion
that Amy's educational program failed to comply with the substantive
requirements of the Act. On the contrary, the District Court found
that the "evidence firmly establishes that Amy is receiving
an 'adequate' education, since she performs better than the average
child in her class and is advancing easily from grade to grade."
483 F Supp., at 534.
light of this finding, and of the fact that Amy was receiving personalized
instruction and related services calculated by the Furnace Woods
school administrators to meet her educational needs, the lower courts
should not have concluded that the Act requires the provision of
a sign-language interpreter. Accordingly, the decision of the Court
of appeals is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings
consistent with this opinion.32
BLACKBMUN, concurring in the judgment.
I reach the same result as the Court of the Education for All Handicapped
Children Act differently. Congress unambiguously stated that it
intended to "to take a more active role under its responsibility
for equal protection of the laws to guarantee that handicapped children
are provided equal educational opportunity." S. Rep. No. 94-168,
p. 9 (1975) (emphasis added). See also 20 U.S.C. 1412(2)(A)(i) (requiring
States to establish plans with the 'goal of providing full educational
opportunity to all handicapped children").
I have observed before, "[i]t seems plain to me that Congress,
in enacting [this statue], intended to do more than merely set out
politically self-serving but essentially meaningless language about
what the [handicapped] deserve at the hands of state . . . authorities."
Pennhurst State School v. Halderman, 451 U.S. 1, 32 (1981) (opinion
concurring in part and concurring in judgment).
clarity of the legislative intent convinces me that the relevant
question here is not, as the court says, whether Amy Rowley's individualized
education program was "reasonably calculated to enable [her]
to receive educational benefits," measured in part by whether
or not she "achieves passing marks and advances from grade
to grade."27 Rather, the question is whether Amy's program,
viewed as a whole, offered her an opportunity to understand and
participate in the classroom that was substantially equal to that
given her nonhandicapped classmates. This is a standard predicated
on equal educational opportunity and equal access to the educational
process, rather than upon Amy's achievement of any particular educational
answering this question, I believe that the District Court and the
court of Appeals should have given greater deference than they did
to the findings of the School District's impartial hearing officer
and the State's Commissioner of Education, both of whom sustained
petitioner's refusal to add sign-language interpreter to Amy's individualized
education program. 20 U.S.C. 1415(e)(2) (requiring reviewing court
to "receive the records of the administrative proceeding"
before granting relief). I would suggest further that those courts
focused too narrowly on the presence or absence of a particular
service-a sign-language interpreter- rather than on the total package
of services furnished to Amy by the School Board.
the Court demonstrates, petitioner Board has provided Amy Rowley
considerably more than "a teacher with a loud voice."
See post, at 4 (dissenting opinion). By concentrating on whether
Amy was "learning as much, or performing as well academically,
as she would without her handicap," 483 F. Supp. 528, 532 (SDNY
1980), the District Court and the Court of Appeals paid too little
attention to whether, on the entire record, respondent's individualized
education program offered her an educational equal to that provided
her nonhandicapped classmates. Because I believe that standard has
been satisfied here, I agree that the judgment of the Court of Appeals
should be reversed.
See S. Rep. No. 94-168, p. 5 (1975; H.R. Rep. No. 94-332, pp. 2-3
2 Two cases, Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia,
348 F. Supp. 866 (DC 1972), and Pennsylvania Association for Retarded
Children v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 334 F. Supp. 1257 (1971),
343 F. Supp. 279(ED Pa 1972), were later identified as the most
prominent of the cases contributing to Congress' enactment of the
Act and the statutes which preceded it. H.R. Rep. No. 94-332, supra
, at 3-4. Both decisions are discussed in Part III of this opinion,
3 All functions of the Commissioner of Education, formerly an officer
in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, were transferred
to the Secretary of Education, in 1979 when congress passed the
Department of Education Organization Act 20, U.S.C. 3401 et seq.
See 20 U.S.C. 3441(a)(1).
4 Despite this preference for "mainstreaming" handicapped
children-educating them with nonhandicapped children-Congress organized
that regular classrooms simply would not be a suitable setting for
the education of many handicapped children. The Act expressly acknowledge
that "the nature or severity of the handicap [may be] such
that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary
aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily." 1412(5).
The Act thus provides for the education of some handicapped children
in separate classes or institutional settings. See ibid.; 1413(a)(4).
5 In addition to covering a wide variety of handicapped conditions,
the Act requires special educational services for children "regardless
of the severity of their handicap." 1412(2), 1414(a)(A).
6 The requirements that parents be permitted to file complaints
regarding their child's education, and present when the child's
IEP is formulated, represent only two examples of Congress' effort
to maximize parental involvement in the education of each handicapped
child. In addition, the Act requires that parents be permitted "to
examine all relevant records with respect to the identification,
evaluation, and educational placement of the child, and . . . to
obtain an independent educational evaluation of the child."
1415(b)(1)(A). See also 1412(4), 1414(a)(4). State educational policies
and the state plan submitted to the Commissioner of Education must
be formulated in "consultation with individuals involved in
or concerned with the education of handicapped children, including
handicapped individuals and parents or guardians of handicapped
children." 1412(7). See also 1412(2)(E). Local agencies, which
receive funds under the act by applying to the state agency, must
submit applications which assure that they have developed procedures
for "participation and consultation of the parents or guardians[s]
of [handicapped] children" in local educational programs, 1414(a)(1)(C)(iii),
and the application itself, along with "all pertinent documents
related to such application," must be made "available
to parents, guardians, and other members of the general public."
7 "Any Party" to a state or local administrative hearing
must "be accorded (1) the right to be accompanied and advised
by counsel and by individuals with special knowledge or training
with respect to the problems of handicapped children, (2) the right
to present evidence and confront, cross examine, and compel the
attendance of witnesses, (3) the right to a written or electronic
verbatim record of such hearing, and (4) the right to written findings
of fact and decisions." 1415(d).
8 For reasons that are not revealed in the record, the District
Court concluded that "the Act itself does not define 'appropriate
education." 483 F. Supp. 533. In fact, the Act expressly defines
the phrase "free appropriate public education." See 1401(18),
to which the District Court was referring. See 483 F. Supp., at
533. After overlooking the statutory definition, the District Court
sought guidance not from regulations interpreting the Act, but from
regulations promulgated under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation
Act. See 483 F. Supp., at 533, citing 45 CFR 84.33(b).
9 The IEP which respondents challenged in the District Court was
created for the 1978-1979 school year. Petitioners contend that
the District Court erred in reviewing that IEP after the school
year had ended and before the school administrators were able to
develop another IEP for subsequent years. We disagree. Judicial
review invariably takes more than nine months to complete, not to
mention the time consumed during the preceding state administrative
hearings. The District Court thus correctly ruled that it retained
jurisdiction to grant relief because the alleged deficiencies in
the IEP were capable of repetition as to the parties before it yet
evading review. Rowley v. The board of Education of the Hendrick
Hudson Central School District, 483 F. Supp. 536. 538 (1980). See
Murphy v. Hunt, 455 U.S.--,--(1982); Weinstein v. Bradford, 423
U.S. 147, 149 (1975).
10 Examples of "related services" identified in the Act
are "speech pathology and audiology, psychological services,
physical and occupational therapy, recreation, and medical and counseling
services, except that such medical services shall be for diagnosis
and evaluation purposes only." 1401(17).
11 The dissent, finding that "the standard of the courts below
seems to reflect the congressional purpose' of the Act, concludes
that our answer to this question "is not a satisfactory one."
Id., at 5. Presumably, the dissent also agrees with the District
Court's conclusion that "It has been left entirely to the courts
and hearing officers to give content to the requirement of an 'appropriate
education." 483 F. Supp., at 533. It thus seems that the dissent
would give the courts carte blanche to impose upon the States whatever
burden their various judgments indicate should be imposed. Indeed,
the dissent clearly characterizes the requirement of an "appropriate
education," as open-ended, noting that "if there are limits
not evident from the face of the statute on what may be considered
an ' appropriate education,' they must be found in the purpose of
the statue or its legislative history." Not only are we unable
to find any suggestion from the face of the statute that the requirement
of an "appropriate education" was to be limitless, but
we also view the dissent's approach as contrary to the fundamental
proposition that Congress, when exercising its spending power, can
impose no burden upon the States unless it does so unambiguously.
See infra, at 27, n 26.
No one can doubt that this would have been an easier case if Congress
had seen fit to provide a more comprehensive statutory definition
of the phrase "free appropriate public education." But
Congress did not do so, and our problem is to construe what Congress
has written. After all, Congress expresses its purpose by words.
It is for us to ascertain - neither to add nor to subtract - neither
to delete nor to distort." XXX 62 Cases of Jam v. United States,
340 U.S. 593. 596 (1951). We would be less than faithful to our
obligation to construe what Congress has written if, in this case,
we were to disregard the statutory language and legislative history
of the Act by concluding that Congress had imposed upon the States
a burden of unspecified proportions and weight, to be revealed only
through case by case adjudication in this courts.
12 See H.R. Rep. No. 94-332, supra, at 10; Note. The Education of
All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, Mich. J.L Ref. 110, 119 (1976).
13 See, e.g., 121 Cong. Rec. (1975)(remarks of Sen. Javits) ("all
too often, our handicapped citizens have been denied opportunities
to receive an adequate education"); 121 Cong Rec. (1975) (remarks
of Sen. Cranston) (millions of handicapped "children are largely
excluded from educational opportunities that we give to our other
children"); 121 Cong. Rec. (1975) (remarks of Rep. Mink) ("handicapped
children . . . are denied access to public schools because of a
lack of trained personnel").
14 Similarly, the Senate Report states that it was an "increased
awareness of the educational needs of handicapped children and landmark
court decisions establishing the right to education for the handicapped
children [that] pointed to the necessity of an expanding federal
role." S. Rep. No. 94-168, supra, at 5. See also H.R. Rep.
No. 94-332, supra, at 2-3.
15 The only substantive standard which can be implied from these
cases comports with the standard implicit in the Act. PARC states
that each child must receive "access to free public program
of education and training appropriate to his learning capacities,"
334 F. Supp., at 1258, and that further state action is required
when it appears that "the needs of the mentally retarded child
are not being adequately served, id., at 1266. (emphasis added.)
Mills also speaks in terms of "adequate" educational services,
348 F. Supp. at 878, and sets a realistic standard of providing
some educational services to each child when every need cannot be
"If sufficient funds are not available to finance all of the
services and programs that are needed and desirable in the systems
then the available funds must be expended equitably in such a manner
that no child is entirely excluded from a publicly supported education
consistent with his needs and ability to benefit therefrom. The
inadequacies of the District of Columbia Public School System, whether
occasioned by insufficient funding or administrative inefficiency,
certainly cannot be permitted to bear more heavily on the 'exceptional
or handicapped child than on the normal child." Id., at 876.
16 Like the Act, PARC required the State to identify, locate [and]
evaluate" handicapped children, 334 F. Supp., at 1267, to create
for each child an individual educational program, id., 1265, and
to hold a hearing "on any change in educational assignment,"
id., at 1266. Mills also required the preparation of an individual
educational program for each child. In addition, Mills permitted
the child's parents to inspect records relevant to the child's education,
to obtain an independent educational evaluation of the child, to
object to the IEP, and receive a hearing before independent hearing
officer, to be represented by counsel at hearing, and to have the
right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses, all of which
are also permitted by the Act. 348 F. Supp., at 879-881. Like the
Act, Mills also required that the education of handicapped children
be conducted pursuant to an overall plan prepared by the District
of Columbia, and established a policy of educating handicapped children
with nonhandicapped children whenever possible. Ibid.
17 See S. Rep. No. 9-168, supra, at 6-7; H.R. Rep. No. 94-332, supra,
18 The 1974 statute 'incorporated the major principles of the right
to education, cases, "by adding important new provisions to
the Education of the Handicapped Act which require the States to:
establish a goal of providing full educational opportunities to
all handicapped children; provide procedures for insuring that handicapped
children and their parents or guardians are guaranteed procedural
safeguards in decisions regarding identification, evaluation, and
educational placement of handicapped children; establish procedures
to insure that, to the maximum extent appropriate, handicapped children
. . . are educated with children who are not handicapped, and establish
procedures to insure that testing and evaluation materials and procedures
utilized for the for the purposes of classification and placement
of handicapped children will be selected and administered so as
not to be racially or culturally discriminatory." S.Rep. No.
94-168, supra, at 8.
The House Report explains that the Act simply incorporated these
purposes of the 1974 statute: the Act was intended "primarily
to amend . . . the Education of the Handicapped Act in order to
provide permanent authorization and a comprehensive mechanism which
will insure that those provisions enacted during the 93rd Congress
[the 1974 statute] will result in maximum benefits for handicapped
children and their families." H.R. Rep. No. 94-332, supra,
at 5. Thus, the 1974 statute purposes providing handicapped children
access to public education became the purpose of the Act.
19 These statistics appear repeatedly throughout the legislative
history of the Act, demonstrating a virtual consensus among legislators
that 3.9 million handicappped children were receiving an appropriate
education in 1975. See, e.g. 121 Cong. Rec. 19486 (1975) (remarks
of Sen. Williams); 121 Cong. Rec. 19504 (1975) (remarks or Sen.
Schweicker); 121 Cong. Rec. 23702 (1975) (remarks of Rep. Madden);
121 Cong. Rec. 23702 (1975) (remarks of Rep. Brademas); 121 Cong.
Rec. 23709 (1975) (remarks of Rep. Minish); 121 Cong. Rec. 37024
(1975) (remarks of Rep. Brademas); 121 Cong. Rec. 37027 (1975) (remarks
of Sen. Gude); 121 Cong. Rec. 37417 (1975) (remarks of Sen. Javits);
121 Cong. Rec. 37420 (1975) (remarks of Sen. Hathaway).
20 Senator Randolph stated: "only 55 percent of the school-aged
handicapped children and 22 percent of the pre-school-aged handicapped
children are receiving special educational services." Hearing
on S. 6 before the Subcommittee on the Handicapped of the Senate
Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, 94th Cong., 1st Sess., 1
(1975). Although the figures differ slightly in various parts of
the legislative history, the general thrust of congressional calculations
was that roughly one-half of the handicapped children in the United
States were not receiving specialized educational services, and
thus were not "served." See, e.g., 121 Cong. Rec, 19494
(1975) (remarks of Sen. Javits) ('only 50 percent of the Nation's
handicapped children received proper education services");
121 Cong. Rec. 19504 (1975) (remarks of Sen. Humphrey) ("[a]most
3 million handicapped children, while in school, receive none of
the special services that they require in order to make education
a meaningful experience"); 121 Cong. Rec. 23706 (1975) (remarks
of Rep. Quie) ("only 55 percent [of handicapped children] were
receiving a public education"); 121 Cong. Rec. 233709 (1975)
(remarks of Rep. Biaggi) ("[o]ver 3 million [handicapped] children
in this country are receiving either below par education or none
Statements similar to those appearing in the text, which equate
"served" as it appears in the Senate Report to "receiving
special education services," appear throughout legislative
history. See, e.g., 121 Cong. Rec. 19492 (1975) (remarks of Sen.
Williams); 121 Cong. Rec. 19494 (1975) (remarks of Sen. Javits);
121 Cong. Rec. 19496 (1975) (remarks of Sen. Stone); 121 Cong. Rec.
19504-19505 (1975) (remarks of Sen. Humphrey); 121 Cong. Rec. 23703
(1975) (remarks of Rep. Brademas); Hearings on H.R. 7217 before
the Subcommittee on Select Education of the Committee on Education
and Labor of the House or Representatives, 94th Cong., 1st Sess.
91, 150, 153 (1975); Hearings on H.R. 4199 before the Select Subcommittee
on Education of the Committee on Education and Labor of the House
of Representatives, 93rd Cong., 1st Sess., 130, 139 (1973). See
also 45 CFR 121a.343(b) (1980).
21 In seeking to read more into the Act that its language or legislative
history will permit, the United States focuses upon the word "appropriate,'
arguing that "that statutory definitions do not adequately
explain what it means." Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae
13. Whatever Congress meant by an "appropriate" education,
it is clear that it did not mean a potential-maximizing education.
The term as used in reference to educating the handicapped appears
to have originated in the PARC decision, where the District Court
required that handicapped children be provided with "education
and training appropriate to [their] learning capacities." 334
F. Supp., at 1258. The word appears again in the Mills decision,
the District Court at one point referring to the need for an "appropriate
educational program," 348 F. Supp., at 879, and at another
point speaking of a "suitable publicly-supported education,"
id., at 878. Both cases also refer to the need for an "adequate"
education. See 334 F. Supp., at 1266; 348 F. Supp. at 878.
The use of "appropriate" in the language of the Act, although
by no means definitive, suggests that Congress used the word as
much to prescribe the settings in which handicapped children should
be educated as to prescribe the substantive content or supportive
services of their education. For example, 1412(5) requires that
handicapped children be educated in classrooms with nonhandicapped
children "to the maximum extent appropriate." Similarly,
140(19) provides that "whenever appropriate," handicapped
children should attend and participate in the meeting at which their
IEP is drafted. In addition, the definition of "free appropriate
public education" itself states that instruction given handicapped
children should be at an "appropriate preschool, elementary,
or secondary school level. 1401(18). The Act's use of the word "appropriate"
thus seems to reflect Congress' recognition that some settings simply
are not suitable environments for the participation of some handicapped
children. At the very least, these statutory uses of the word refute
the contention that Congress used "appropriate" as a term
of art which concisely expresses the standard found by the lower
22 See also 121 Cong. Rec. 19492 (1975) (remarks of Sen. Williams);
121 Cong. Rec. 19504 (1975) (remarks of Sen. Humphrey).
23 This view is supported by the congressional intention, frequently
expressed in the legislative history, that handicapped children
be enabled to achieve a reasonable degree of self sufficiency. After
referring to statistics showing that many handicapped children were
excluded from public education, the Senate Report states:
"The long range implications of these statistics are that public
agencies and taxpayers will spend billions of dollars over the lifetimes
of these individuals to maintain such persons as dependents and
in a minimally acceptable lifestyle. With proper education services,
many would be able to become productive citizens, contributing to
society instead of being forced to remain burdens. Others, through
such services, would increase their independence, thus reducing
their dependence on society." S. Rep. 94-168, supra, at 9.
See also H.R. Rep. No. 94-332, supra, at 11.
Similarly, one of the principal Senate sponsors of the Act stated
that "providing appropriate educational services now means
that many of these individuals will be able to become a contributing
part of our society, and they will not have to depend on subsistence
payments form public funds." 121 Cong. Rec. 19492 (1975) (remarks
of Sen. Williams). See also 121 Cong. Rec. 25541 (1975) (remarks
of Rep. Harkin); 121 Cong. Rec. 37024 -37025 91975) (remarks of
Rep. Brademas); 121 Cong. Rec. 37027 (1975) (remarks of Rep. Gude);
121 Cong. Rep. 37410 (1975) (remarks of Sen. Randolph); 121 Cong.
Rec. 37416 (1975) (remarks of Sen Williams).
The desire to provide handicapped children with an attainable degree
of personal independence obviously anticipated that state educational
programs would confer educational benefits upon such children. But
at the same time, the goal of achieving some degree of self-sufficiency
in most cases is a good deal more modest than the potential-maximizing
goal adopted by the lower courts.
Despite its frequent mention, we cannot conclude, as did the dissent
in the Court of Appeals, that self-sufficiency was itself the substantive
standard which Congress imposed upon the States. Because many mildly
handicapped children will achieve self sufficiency without state
assistance while personal independence for the severely handicapped
may be an unreachable goal, "self sufficiency" as a substantive
standard is at once an inadequate protection and an overly demanding
requirement. We thus view these references in the legislative history
as evidence Congress' intention that the services provided handicapped
children be educationally beneficial, whatever the nature or severity
of their handicap.
24 Section 1412(5) of the Act requires that participating States
establish "procedures to assure that, to the maximum extent
appropriate, handicapped children, including children in public
or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with
children who are not handicapped, and that special classes, separate
schooling, or other removal of handicapped children from the regular
educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity
of the handicap is such that education in regular classes with the
use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily."
25 We do not hold today that every handicapped child who is advancing
from grade to grade in a regular public school system is automatically
receiving a "free appropriate public education." In this
case, however, we find Amy's academic progress, when considered
with the special services and professional consideration accorded
by the Furnace Woods school administrators, to be dispositive.
26 In defending the decisions of the District Court and the Court
of Appeals, respondents and United States rely upon isolated statements
in the legislative history concerning the achievement of maximum
potential, see H.R. Rep. No. 94-332, supra, at 13, as support for
the contention that Congress intended to impose greater substantive
requirements than we have found. These statements, however, are
too thin a reed on which to base an interpretation of the Act which
disregards both its language and the balance of its legislative
history. "Passing references and isolated phrases are not controlling
when analyzing a legislative history." Department of State
v. The Washington Post Co.,--U.S.--(1982)
Moreover, even were we to agree that these statements evince a congressional
intent to maximize each child's potential, we could not hold that
Congress has successfully imposed that burden upon the United States.
"Legislation enacted pursuant to the spending power is much
in the nature of a contract: in return for federal funds, the States
agree to comply with federally imposed conditions. The legitimacy
of Congress' power to legislate under the spending power thus rests
on whether the State voluntarily and knowingly accepts the terms
of the 'contract' . . . Accordingly, if Congress intends to impose
a condition on the grant of federal moneys, it must do so unambiguously."
Pennhurst State School v. Halderman, 451 U.S. 1, 17 (1981).
As already demonstrated, the Act and its history impose no requirements
on the States like those imposed by the District Court and the Court
of Appeal. A fortiori Congress has not done so unambiguously, as
required in the valid exercise of its spending power.
27 This inquiry will require a court not only to satisfy itself
that the State has adopted the state plan, and assurances required
by the Act, but also to determine that the State has created an
IEP for the child in question which conforms with the requirements
28 When the handicapped child is being educated in the regular classrooms
of a public system, the achievement of passing marks and advancement
from grade to grade will be one important factor in determining
educational benefit. See Part III, supra.
29 In this case, for example, both the state hearing officer and
the District Court were presented with evidence as to the best method
for educating the deaf, a question long debated among scholars.
See Large, "Special Problems of the Deaf Under Education for
All Handicapped Children Act of 1975," 58 Washington U.L.Q.
213, 229 (1980). The District Court accepted the testimony of respondents'
experts that there was "a trend supported by studies showing
the greater degree of success of students brought up in deaf households
using [method of communication used by the Rowleys]." 483 F.
Supp., at 535.
30 It is clear that Congress was aware of the States' traditional
role in the formulation and execution of education policy. "Historically,
the States have had the primary responsibility for the education
of children at the elementary and secondary level." 121 Cong.
Rec. 19498 (1975) (remarks of Sen. Dole) See also Epperson v. Arkansas,
393 U.S. 97, 104 (1968) "by and large, public education in
out Nation is committed to the control of state and local authorities."
31 In addition to providing for extensive parental involvement in
the formulation of state and local policies, as well as the preparation
of individual educational programs, the Act ensures that States
will receive the advice of experts in the field of educating handicapped
children. As a condition for receiving federal funds under the Act,
States must create "an advisory panel, appointed by the Governor
or any other official authorized under State law to make such appointments,
composed of individuals involved in or concerned with the education
of handicapped children, including handicapped individuals, teachers,
parents or guardians of handicapped children, State and local education
officials, and administrators of programs for handicapped children,
which (a) advises the State educational agency of unmet needs within
the State in the education of handicapped children, [and] (B) comments
publicly on any rules or regulations proposed for issuance by the
State regarding the education of handicapped children." 1413(a)(12).
32 Because the District Court declined to reach respondents' contention
that petitioners had failed to comply with the Act's procedural
requirements in developing Amy's IEP, 483 F. Supp. at 533, n.8,
the case must be remanded for further proceedings consistent with
WHITE, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN and JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.
order to reach its result in this case, the majority opinion contradicts
itself, the language of the statute, and the legislative history.
Both the majority's standard for a "free appropriate education"
and its standard for judicial review disregard congressional intent.
majority first turns its attention to the meaning of a "free
appropriate public education." the Act provides:
term "free appropriate public education" means special
education and related services which (A) have been provided at public
expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge,
(B) meet the standard of the State educational agency, (c) include
an appropriate preschool, elementary agency, (D) are provided in
conformity with the individualized education program required under
section 1414(a)(5) of this title." 20 U.S.C. 1401 (18).
majority reads this statutory language as establishing a congressional
intent limited to bringing "previously excluded handicapped
children into the public education systems of the States and requiring
the States to adopt procedures which would result in individualized
consideration of and instruction for each child." Ante, at
12. In its attempt to constrict the definition of "appropriate"
and the thrust of the Act, the majority opinion states, "Noticeably
absent from the language of the statute is any substantive standard
prescribing the level of education to be accorded handicapped children.
Certainly the language of the statute contains no requirements like
the one imposed by the lower courts-that States commensurate with
the opportunity provided to other children." quoting 483, F.
Supp. at 534.
agree that the language of the Act does not contain a substantive
standard beyond requiring that the education offered must be "appropriate."
However, if there are limits not evident from the face of the statute
on what may be considered an "appropriate education,"
they must be found in the purpose of the statute or its legislative
history. The Act itself announces it will provide a "full educational
opportunity to all handicapped children." 20 U.S.C. 1412(2)(A)
(emphasis added). This goal is repeated throughout the legislative
history, in statements too frequent to be "passing references
and isolated phrases." 1 Ante, at 27, n. 26, quoting Department
of State v. Washington Post Co., ---- U.S. ---- (1982). These statements
elucidate the meaning of "appropriate." According to the
Senate Report, for example, the Act does "guarantee that handicapped
children are provided equal educational opportunity." S. Rep.
No. 94-168, at 9 (1975) (emphasis added). This promise appears throughout
the legislative history. See 121 Cong. Rec. 19482-19483 (1975) (remarks
of Sen. Randolph); id., at 19504 (Sen. Humphrey); id., at 19505
(Sen. Beall); id., at 23704 (Rep Brademas); id., at 25538 (Rep.
Cornell); id., at 25540 (Rep. Grassley); id., at 37025 (Rep. Perkins);
id., at 37030 (Rep. Mink); id., at 37412 (Sen. Taft); id., at 37413
(Sen. Williams); id., at 37418-37419 (Sen. Cranston); id., at 37419-37420
at times the purpose of the Act was described as tailoring each
handicapped child's educational plan to enable the child "to
achieve his or her maximum potential." H.R. Rep. No. 94-332,
94th Cong., 1st Sess. 13 19 (1975), See 121 Cong. Rec. 23709 (1975).
Sen. Stafford, one of the sponsors of the Act, declared "We
can all agree that the education given a handicapped child should
be equivalent, at least, to the one those children who are not handicapped
receive." 121 Cong. Rec. 19483 (1975). The legislative history
thus directly supports the conclusion that the Act intends to give
handicapped children an educational opportunity commensurate with
that given other children.
majority opinion announces a different substantive standard, that
"Congress did not impose upon the States any greater substantive
standard than would be necessary to make such access meaningful."
While "meaningful" is no more enlightening than "appropriate,"
the Court purports to clarify itself. Because Amy was provided with
some specialized instruction from which she obtained some benefit
and because she passed from grade to grade, she was receiving a
meaningful and therefore appropriate education.
falls far short of what the Act intended. The Act details as specifically
as possible the kind of specialized education each handicapped child
must receive. It would apparently satisfy the Court's standard of
"access to specialized instruction and related services which
are individually designed to provide educational benefit to the
handicapped child," for a deaf child such as Amy to be given
a teacher with a loud voice, for she would benefit from that service.
The Act requires more. It defines "special education"
to mean "specifically designed instruction, at no cost to parents
or guardians, to meet the unique needs of a handicapped child."
1401 (16) (emphasis added). Providing a teacher with a loud voice
would not meet Amy's needs and would not satisfy the Act. The basic
floor of opportunity is instead, as the courts below recognized,
intended to eliminate the effects of the handicap, at least to the
extent that the child will be given an equal opportunity to learn
if that is reasonably possible. Amy Rowley, without a sign language
interpreter, comprehends less than half of what is said in the classroom-less
than half of what normal children comprehend. This is hardly an
equal opportunity to learn, even if Amy makes passing grades.
its reliance on the use of "appropriate" in the definition
of the Act, the majority opinion speculates that "Congress
used the word as much described the settings in which the children
should be educated as to prescribe the substantive content or supportive
services of their education." Of course, the word "appropriate"
can be applied in many ways; at times in the Act, Congress used
it to recommend mainstreaming handicapped children; at other points,
it used the word to refer to the content of the individualized education.
The issue before us is what standard the word "appropriate"
incorporates when it is used to modify "education." The
answer given by the Court is not a satisfactory one.
Court's discussion of the standard for judicial review is as flawed
as its discussion of a "free appropriate public education.'
According to the Court, a court can ask only whether the State has
"complied with the procedures set forth in the Act" and
whether the individualized education program is "reasonably
calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefit."
Both the language of the Act and legislative history, however, demonstrate
that Congress intended the courts to conduct a far more searching
majority assigns major significance to the review provision's being
found in a section entitled "Procedural Safeguards." But
where else would a provision for judicial review belong? The majority
does acknowledge that the current language, specifying that a court
"shall receive the record of the administrative proceedings,
shall hear additional evidence at the request of a party, and basing
its decision on the preponderance of the evidence, shall grant such
relief as the court determines is appropriate," 1415(e)(2),
was substituted at Conference for language that would have restricted
the role of the reviewing court much more sharply. It is clear enough
to me that Congress decided to reduce substantially judicial deference
to state administrative decisions.
legislative history shows that judicial review is not limited to
procedural matters and that the state educational agencies are given
first, but not final, responsibility for the content of a handicapped
child's education. The Conference committee directs courts to make
an "independent decision." S. Conf. Rep. No. 94-455, at
50. The deliberate change in the review provision is an unusually
clear indication that Congress intended courts to undertake substantive
review instead of relying on the conclusions of the state agency.
On the floor of the Senate, Senator Williams, the chief sponsor
of the bill, committee chairman, and floor manager responsible for
the legislation in the Senate, emphasized the breath of the review
provisions at both the administrative and judicial levels:
parent or guardian may present a complaint concerning any matter
regarding the identification, evaluation, or educational placement
of the child or the provision of a free appropriate public education
to such a child.
this regard, Mr. President, I would like to stress that the language
referring to "free appropriate education" has been adopted
to make clear that a complaint may involve matters such a questions
respecting a child's individualized education program, questions
of whether special education and related services are being provided
without charge to the parents or guardians, questions relating to
whether to the services provided a child meet the standards of the
State education agency, or any other question within the scope of
the definition of "free appropriate public education."
In addition, it should be clear that a parent or guardian may present
a complaint alleging that a State or local education agency has
refused to provide services to which a child may be entitled or
alleging that the State or local educational agency has erroneously
classified a child as as handicapped child when, in fact, that child
is not a handicapped child. 121 Cong. Rec. 37415 (emphasis added).
is no doubt that the state agency itself must make substantive decisions.
The legislative history reveals that the courts are to consider,
de novo, the same issues. Senator Williams explicitly stated that
the civil action permitted under the Act encompasses all matters
related to the original complaint. Id., at 37416.
the Court's limitations on judicial review have no support in either
the language of the Act or the legislative history. Congress did
not envision that inquiry would end if a showing is made that the
child is receiving passing marks and is advancing from grade to
grade. Instead, it intended to permit a full and searching inquiry
into any aspect of a handicapped child's education. The court's
standard, for example, would not permit a challenge to part of the
IEP; the legislative history demonstrate beyond doubt that Congress
intended such challenge to be possible, even if the plan as developed
is reasonably calculated to give the child some benefits.
can challenge the IEP for failing to supply the special education
and related services needed by the individual handicapped child.
That is what the Rowleys did. As the Government observes,
called upon to review the content of an IEP, in accordance with
20 U.S.C. 1415(e) inevitably are required to make a judgment on
the basis of the evidence presented, concerning whether the educational
methods proposed by the local school district are 'appropriate'
for the handicapped child involved." Brief for United States
as Amicus Curiae 13.
courts below, as they were required by the Act, did precisely that.
the judicial review provisions of the Act, neither the District
Court nor the Court of Appeals was bound by the state's construction
of what an "appropriate" education means in general or
by what the state authorities considered to be an appropriate education
for Amy Rowley. Because the standard of the courts below seems to
me to reflect the congressional purpose and because their factual
findings are not clearly erroneous, I respectfully dissent.
The Court's opinion relies heavily on the statement, which occurs
throughout the legislative history, that, at the time of enactment,
one million of the roughly eight million handicapped children in
the United States were excluded entirely from the public school
system and more than half were receiving an inappropriate education.
See, e.g. ante, at pp. 11, 18-19. But this statement was often linked
to statements urging equal educational opportunity. See, e.g. 121
Cong. Rec. 19502 (remarks of Sen. Cranston); id. at 23702 (remarks
of Rep. Brademas). That is, Congress wanted not only to bring handicapped
children into schoolhouse, but wanted also to benefit them once
they had entered.
2 As further support of its conclusion, the majority opinion turns
to Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children v. Commonwalth
of Pennsylvania (PARC), 334 F. Supp. 1257 (1971), 343 F. Supp. 279
(ED Pa. 1972) and Mills v. Board of Education of the District of
Columbia, 348 F. Supp. 866 (DDC 1972). That these decisions served
as an impetus for the Act does not, however, establish them as the
limit of the Act. In any case, the very language that the majority
quotes from Mills sets a standard not of some education, but of
educational opportunity equal to that of non-handicapped children.
Indeed, Mills, relying on decisions since called into question by
this Court's opinion in San Antonio School District v. Rodriquez,
411 U.S. 1 (1973), states:
Hobson v. Hansen [269 F. Supp. 401 (DD,) Judge Wright found that
denying poor public school children educational opportunity equal
to that available to more affluent public school children was violative
of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. A fortiori, the
defendants' conduct here, denying plaintiffs and their class not
just an equal publicly supported education while providing such
education to other children, is violative of the Due Process Clause."
348 F.Supp., at 875.
the effect of Rodriquez on the validity of this reasoning, the statement
exposes the majority's mischaracterization of the opinion and thus
of the assumptions of the legislature that passed the Act.
3 "Related services' are "transportation, and such developmental,
corrective, and other supportive services . . . as may be required
to assist a handicapped child to benefit from special education."