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Justices Decline to Revisit Special Education Case

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned aside an appeal from an Oregon family seeking reimbursement for the private placement of a child in a school charging tuition of $5,200 per month.

The case is noteworthy because the justices in 2009 used it to decide that, in principle, the main federal special education law authorizes reimbursements for private school tuition even when a child has never received special education services.

The court that year ruled 6-3 in Forest Grove School District v. T.A. that 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act meant to rein in the costs of private school placements did not remove the power of hearing officers and federal judges to order such reimbursements under the proper circumstances.

Writing in dissent, Justice David H. Souter, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, warned that the majority's decision could prove costly for school districts. "The more private placement there is, the higher the special education bill," then-Justice Souter said.

The 2009 decision was a victory at the time for the parents of a boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who had clashed with the Forest Grove school district in Oregon before placing the child in the private Mount Bachelor Academy.

But the family's battle with the school district continued after the Supreme Court's decision, with a federal district court considering the "equities" on remand. The district court ended up denying any tuition reimbursement to the parents because they "appear to have enrolled T.A. in [Mount Bachelor] not because of any disability recognized by the IDEA but because of his drug abuse and behavioral problems," as the district court put it.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, upheld the district court in in a 2-1 decision last April.

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, the parents said the 9th Circuit's decision that the reasons for the private school placement can be the key factor in an IDEA reimbursement decision conflicted with a decision by another federal appeals court. The parents also argued that the lower courts should have considered partial reimbursement of the private school tuition.

The justices on Jan. 23 declined, without comment, to hear the parents' appeal in T.A. v. Forest Grove School District (Case No. 11-630).

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