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Supreme Court to Review Special Education, Strip-Search Cases

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The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to add two more education cases to its docket for this term—one involving special education and the other stemming from a lawsuit over the strip-search of a middle school student by school officials looking for over-the-counter or prescription drugs.

In the special education case, the justices will return to an issue they deadlocked over in their last term: Whether parents in a special education dispute with a school district may be reimbursed for “unilaterally” placing their child in a private school when that child has never received special education services from the district.

With Justice Anthony M. Kennedy recusing himself, the other justices tied 4-4 in a case in 2007 over whether the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act permitted a New York City father to win reimbursement of private school tuition for a child with disabilities who had never even enrolled in the city’s school system. The tie in Board of Education of New York City v. Tom F. upheld the tuition reimbursement in that case, but set no national precedent.

The new case, which presumably does not present any barrier to Justice Kennedy’s participation, is from the Forest Grove school district in Oregon, which is appealing a federal appeals court ruling in favor of parents who sent their son to a private school for children with behavioral and emotional problems some two years after the school district’s evaluation had determined the boy was not eligible for special education.

The district re-evaluated the student, and determined that he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but that it wasn’t affecting his educational progress. The parents appealed to a hearing officer, who ruled they should be reimbursed for the private residential program where they had enrolled their son, for which monthly tuition was more than $5,000.

A federal district court reversed the hearing officer, but a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held 2-1 last April that the parents were entitled to reimbursement. The majority said that language in the IDEA that such tuition reimbursements for such unilateral private school placements were available only to students “who previously received special education and related services” did not “create a categorical bar to recovery of private school reimbursement for all other students.”

The district’s appeal in Forest Grove School District v. T.A. (Case No. 08-305) was joined in a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the National School Boards Association, the American Association of School Administrators, and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, which argued that the 9th Circuit court’s decision would increase the costs of special education by encouraging parents to avoid the process of working with a school district to develop and individualized education program, or IEP, for a student with disabilities.

“The 9th Circuit’s decision allows those parents to treat the IEP process as a potential lottery ticket to a government-funded private school education,” the school groups said.

The parents' brief in opposition is here.

Strip-Search Case

The strip-search case has also attracted attention in education law circles.
In July, the 9th Circuit court ruled that a strip search of an 8th grader by school authorities looking for Ibuprofen pills violated the student’s rights under the Fourth Amendment.

An panel of the court ruled 8-3 on July 11 that officials at an Arizona middle school “acted contrary to all reason and common sense as they trampled over” the privacy interests of student Savana Redding. And by a vote of 6-5, the panel held that the assistant principal who ordered the strip search was not entitled to qualified immunity from liability in the student’s lawsuit.

Redding was searched in 2003 as part of an investigation into the possession of over-the-counter medications by students at Safford Middle School in the Safford school district. After receiving a report that Redding, who was 13 at the time, had been distributing prescription-strength Ibuprofen pills to fellow students, school officials searched the girl’s backpack, then asked a female administrative assistant to search the girl’s clothing. Redding had to remove her pants, lift the waist band of her underpants, and lift her shirt and pull out her bra band, according to court papers. No contraband was found.

Ms. Redding and her parents challenged the school officials’ actions as a violation of her Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. They lost before a federal district court and before an initial three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit court. But the 9th Circuit granted a review by a larger panel of judges.

In that decision last July, the 9th Circuit majority said the strip-search was “excessively intrusive,” especially considering that school officials were relying on an uncorroborated tip from another student who had been caught in possession of the pills.

The court further said that it should have been clear to the school officials under the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1985 decision in New Jersey v. T.L.O. that the strip search was unreasonable, and thus an assistant principal who ordered the search did not merit qualified immunity.

In T.L.O., the Supreme Court upheld the search of a student’s purse for contraband and held that school searches are justified by a “reasonable suspicion” that laws or school rules were violated. Under the ruling, schools must show that a search was reasonable at its inception and was reasonable in scope.

“The guidance provided by T.L.O. should have been clear to the school officials, who undertook the professional obligation to balance properly the order of the school with the individual liberties of the students who enter the school,” the court said.

The school district’s appeal of that decision in Safford Unified School District v. Redding (No. 08-479) was also joined by national school groups, in this case the NSBA and the AASA, which called for the Supreme Court to provide greater guidance to school administrators about the legality of student searches.

The 9th Circuit court’s ruling “unfairly places school officials in the position of being sued and held personally responsible for good faith decisions intended to protect the health and safety of students entrusted to their care and tutelage,” the education groups said in their friend-of-the-court brief.

The Redding family's brief in opposition is here.

The justices indicated that both cases will be heard in their April argument session, and decisions are expected by the end of the court’s term in June.


10 Comments

I feel that if a school has the responsibilty of keeping students safe and healthy they should use any means. If that student were to OD on prescription or over the conter drugs the parents would sue for that so it is a Catch 22 situation. When my kids went to school they were to turn the right amount of doseage for that day to the nurse who in turn supervised the intake and also even asperine. But I do think when a child is on school property they must obey the rules and if strip searching is in order than so be it as long as it is done properly. I didn't like being frisked at the airport in front of God and everyone but the lady was descrete (I am a female) and it was for my and everyone's safety due to the events of 911 etc. So lighten up and let school officials do what is right and safe for the students. That is not going to ruin a kids pyscie. An over dose is going to do worse than that!

If that had happened to my daughters in their school years I don't know what I'd have done. Lawsuit? Criminal complaint? Something.

School districts, including State and County or City, have used the excuse of "protecting the children and the academic" to create policies that only serve to protect the school administration. No one, save a police jurisdiction, and then with cause, should ever presume the right to conduct such behavior with such a cavalier attitude.

I say fire the Principal, the Vice Principal and the "nurse" (most of whom can't even 'technically' administer aspirin in their protocols). Each of them, even if only looking at the issue as mature educated adults, knew that would be immoral, violating the student's Constitutional Law, cause severe trauma to that student and set up a tone of additional fear among the students in their care.

Is that what we want our children to become? Fearful of authority? Of the deprivation of personal freedoms?

Fire the bastards, sue them to the hilt in Civil Courts and prosecute them for "rape of a child".

There is no place for these kinds of mindsets in our school systems. Of course, the 'system' is set up to shield the "school personnel" (oops, oh of course they don't!)

ORANGE JUMPSUIT SCHOOL UNIFORM - I'm tired of being in prison. I don't want to spend my day strapped to a gurney and wheeled between indoctrination and interrogation. We have sacrificed so many of our basic civil rights and human dignity on the alter of the false
god of security. If this is what we teach our children then God Help Us.

I'm quite sure IF that were my 13 year old daughter being strip searched I would be introducing these nazi school officials to Mr. Bat it amazes me what this country has let slide, and used the excuse that that's the way the world is since 911 I say nonsense, and I hope the supreme court has the sense to call this and more incidents along this line for what they are these radical ideas are just as harmful and terroristic, if not moreso, because they are passed off as "just being careful" and of course it took place in Arizona the home of nutcase lawmen

I'm quite sure IF that were my 13 year old daughter being strip searched I would be introducing these nazi school officials to Mr. Bat it amazes me what this country has let slide, and used the excuse that that's the way the world is since 911 I say nonsense, and I hope the supreme court has the sense to call this and more incidents along this line for what they are these radical ideas are just as harmful and terroristic, if not moreso, because they are passed off as "just being careful" and of course it took place in Arizona the home of nutcase lawmen

“unfairly places school officials in the position of being sued and held personally responsible for good faith decisions intended to protect the health and safety of students entrusted to their care and tutelage,”

Good faith decisions? What the hell does that mean? Those administrators had no business strip searching that girl. Especially based on the another teenage student's information. Shouldn't the proper authorities been notified, and since they are more familiar with the law, let them make the decision on whether to strip search the young lady?

I know that schools have a hard job, but this kind of stuff is inexcusable. It's not like it was an "illegal" drug. It was ibuprofen. They act like they were taking down the Medien Cartel responsible for violence and physical harm.

Nobody has the right to strip search except for jails and prisons.

"... The tie in Board of Education of New York City v. Tom F. upheld the tuition reimbursement in that case, but set no national president.

precedent?

great posting: thanks for sharing that

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In the special ed case I don't understand why the father was reimbursed if the child was never enrolled in the system? So many other questions: Who diagonosed the child as special ed - the school district or the father? Was an IEP plan developed for the child and never implemented? Was there a match or difference between the private school and public school special ed diagonosis? Did the public school have adequate resourses to serve the special ed needs of the child? etc-etc-etc. On the surface it appears the court is being asked to decide who should get paid - public or private school - for delivering special ed services? The real issue the court should focus on is where can a special ed child receive the education services and support he or she deserves.

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