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Supreme Court Backs Family in Special Education Case


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the main federal special education law authorizes reimbursement for private school tuition under the proper circumstances, even when a child has never previously received special education services in a public school.

The court's 6-3 decision came in Forest Grove School District v. T.A. (Case No. 08-305).

I'll have more on that decision shortly here on the blog. In a decision in another case of interest to school districts, the justices raised questions about the constitutionality of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 but stopped short of invalidating it.

The issue in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder (No. 08-322) involves Section 5 of the voting-rights law, which requires states and local governments in the South and certain other areas of the country to get federal preclearance of any changes in voting procedure.


Re: Forest Grove: Had they no Ritalin? Does this mean that every soft learning disability requires $5,000/mo tax payer supported remediation? Conservatives claim it will cost even more if the special education is provided through the school as everything the government does costs even more. So long live government supported private education. How many children with ADD do you think are in the public school system? Is it really a problem? The court says not. How many of their mommies and daddies have $65,000 up front for private school + lawyer fees to roll the dice with? Well the private school could give temporary scholarships and help them lawyer up. A small investment could give huge returns. And who sets reasonable tuition rates? Did the private school need to show proof of effectiveness? For $5,000/mo I bet they can. Does it last? I see the birth of new industry something like out publicly funded private health care system. Interesting to have Souter and Scalia/Thomas (I count them as one) on the same side in a dissent.

I've noticed that coverage of this case tends to emphasize the potential cost to school districts, and uses phrases like "bypass the school district" a lot.

To characterize this case as opening the door to all students with ADD, or any disability, being placed in hugely expensive private schools by their parents, at public expense, is to miss the key factor in this case: the parents here didn't insist on a private school, they resorted to it after the district twice failed identify their child as eligible for special education.

The Court in this case re-emphasized that "parents who ‘unilaterally change their child’s placement during the pendency of review proceed-ings, without the consent of state or local school officials, do so at their own financial risk,'" Slip Op. at 16.

This is also not a case that will be limited in effect to students from wealthy families. They(or rather their parents) may get the greatest immediate benefit, but hopefully this decision will also help the students most in need, by providing a major financial disincentive to districts that are inclined to avoid classifying students to conserve resources.

To confess my bias at the start, I have worked in a CIL for the past 10 years, and have a child with a documented but not school-administration-accepted disability (teachers recognize the problem). I would like to add in support of the last comment, "wealthy" parents don't send their children to public schools; they also don't have to fight with school districts. We here have seen a recent instance of parents spending everything they had on an "appropriate" school placement, and only when they had run out of funds, looking for help from the school district. We have seen instances where school administrators become abusive to parents in spec ed planning-and-placement team meetings for children who have been identified. We have seen spec ed staff helpless to intervene in inappropriate placements and treatment because they have no real authority, only responsibility, in school systems. There are situations in which the schools fail in their responsibility AND THERE HAS BEEN NO REMEDY. This decision permits a remedy.

Forest Grove's case is based on a borderline typo in IDEA, so it is not surprising they lost. But it is surprising that Souter dissented. Looks like he lost his mind, which is bad news for Redding.

That's great, I never thought about Covers news and analysis on legal developments affecting schools, educators, and parents. like that before.

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