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Supreme Court Declines to Hear Special Education Case on Damages

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The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear the appeal of two Massachussetts parents who were seeking damages from their school district for alleged retaliation for advocating for their children with disabilities.

The parents, Catherine Burke and Mikael Rolfhamre, alleged in their lawsuit that the Brookline, Mass., school district retaliated against them for pressing their children's rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The parents alleged that the district spread damaging rumors, made excessive demands for medical records, and limited access to independent evaluators.

The IDEA does not provide for damages. The parents sought $250,000 in damages against the school district under the ADA and Section 504, which was denied by both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, in Boston.

The Brookline school district said in its response brief to the high court that the parents were seeking to "circumvent the established legal principle that money damages are unavailable under the IDEA."

"In lieu of answering" the parents' allegations, the district's brief said, the district argued to lower courts that the parents "could not recover monetary damages for their claims, all of which were premised on rights created by the IDEA."

The justices declined without comment to hear the parents' appeal in Burke v. Brookline School District (Case No. 07-1175).

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While the challenges these parents have faced are tragic, both with their disabled child and the alleged retaliation by the school district, in order for people's rights to be protected, they must abide by these guidelines.

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