Supreme Court finds school district denied special education services, must pay for appropriate private placement

Andrea Kadlec
Director of Community Relations

The United States Supreme Court ruled last week that under special education law, schools must reimburse parents for private education services sought when a public school fails to provide a free and appropriate public education and the private school placement is appropriate. Disability Rights Washington signed on to a brief in support of the parents, whom the Court favored in its 6-3 ruling, with Souter, Scalia and Thomas dissenting.

In the case of  Forest Grove v T.A,  the local school district denied the parents' request for special education services and failed to take appropriate action to determine special education eligibility in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the law that regulates special education in public schools.  The parents subsequently withdrew their child from the local school and sent him to a private school, where the student was assessed as needing special education services. Parents requested the local school district pay for these services, but the school district refused, stating the student was not receiving special education services when he left public school, thus the public school was not responsible for payment. The Supreme Court rejected the public school's argument and acknowledged the school's denial of special education services led to the private school placement, which was appropriate for the student.

The case reinforces that students with disabilities have a right to a free and appropriate public education and the onus to provide this is on the local school district, even when placement in private education is warranted. It also acknowledges that districts must identify and appropriately configure special education supports for students with disabilities, so their access to a free and appropriate public education is not compromised.