Reimbursement for special ed at private schools

A story on NPR’s All Things Considered explains how a Supreme Court ruling last week makes it easier for parents of special education students to get reimbursed for private school tuition.

The case started in Oregon — the parents of a teenager who was refused special education services at a public high school transferred the student to a private academy during his junior year, then sued the school district to recover the $65,000 they spent on private tuition. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the parents.

Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens said it would be wrong to reward the school district for refusing to find a child eligible for special services. Attorney David Salmons represented the family and pointed out afterwards that the family has won only the right to argue for reimbursement.

“Keep in mind,” he says,” that the decision today does not guarantee the parents reimbursement for private school tuition. The parents have the burden of showing that there was a failure to provide a free appropriate public education, and they have the burden to show that their private placement was appropriate.”

Still, Lindsay Jones of the Council for Exceptional Children worries that the majority decision will hurt school systems by removing the incentive for parents to collaborate with educators.

“Under that situation,” she says, “parents don’t have to even seek special education services or work with the district before they ask that the district pay for their private placement.”

There’s hope this decision will encourage districts to act quickly to identify students with learning problems so that future cases won’t end up in court. It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out.


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