Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Special Education

Degree Granting Department

Special Education

Major Professor

Brenda L. Walker, Ph.D., J.D.

Committee Member

Jeannie Kleinhammer-Tramill, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elizabeth Shaunessy-Dedrick, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Zorka Karanxha, Ph.D.


Rowley, IDEA, appropriate, FAPE


This study examined how Florida administrative law judges (ALJs) constructed an appropriate education for students with disabilities in their final orders. This study utilized the Johnstone Method as a heuristic in analyzing the data. It examined the construction of an appropriate education from the implementation of PL 94-142 up to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Board of Education v. Rowley (1975-1978), after the Rowley decision (1983-1986), and after the reauthorization of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act in 2004 (2004-2007). Each time period was examined individually and then the results were compared. The data sources included six purposively sampled final orders obtained from the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings and the Florida Department of Education. Two final orders per time period have been examined. For each time period, one final order with the school district as the prevailing party and one with the parent as the prevailing party were selected. Immersive line-by-line coding, and grounding of claims in specific textual evidence have been utilized to establish trustworthiness. The results indicate that during the period pre-Rowley, ALJs constructed an "appropriate" education based on the needs of the child and the special education program proposed to meet those needs. Deference was not given to one party over the other and the ALJ used his or her judgment in helping to construct an appropriate education. After the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Board of Education v. Rowley (1982), experts were charged with constructing an appropriate education for students with disabilities. This decision established an epistemic hierarchy that gave deference to school districts over parents. Outcomes were not considered by ALJs in constructing an appropriate education post-Rowley. The purpose of special education as outlined in IDEA (2004) had no impact on the construction of an appropriate education for a student with a disability; instead the Rowley decision impacted the time period post-IDEA (2004). Throughout the three time periods, the ALJs all emphasized that school districts are not required to provide the "best" education to students with disabilities.