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Justices Decline Appeal on Special Education Placement

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal from parents who contend the New York City school system violated federal special education law when it excluded them from the decision over where their son would attend school.

The parents say they participated in the process in 2008 to develop an individualized education plan for their son, who has autism. But when it came time to assign their son to a school, the New York City school district unilaterally chose a school site and then mailed the decision to the parents as a "final notice of recommendation."

The parents, identified in court papers as R.E. and M.E., believed the assigned school did not have sufficient one-to-one teaching support for their son, so they enrolled him in private school and sought tuition reimbursement from the school district.

A federal district court sided with the parents, but a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, ruled last year that under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the school district "may select the specific school without the advice of parents so long as it conforms to the program offered in the IEP."

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, the parents said the 2nd Circuit court's ruling conflicts with decades of Supreme Court special education decisions that the "core of the statute" requires parental input at all stages of the decision-making process.

"Numerous procedural safeguards in the act evince Congress' intent that decision-making be the result of a collaborative process between school districts and parents that is intended to increase the chances of developing an appropriate education plan while minimizing the risk of unnecessary conflict," the parents' appeal said.

In a response urging the justices not to hear the case, the New York City school system said the 2nd Circuit was following its own precedents holding that while parents should participate in decisions on the "educational placement" of their child, the term meant "the general type of educational program in which a child is placed and not the specific school site."

The justices declined without comment to hear the appeal in R.E. v. New York City Department of Education (Case No. 12-1210).

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