Supremes Support Private School Special Ed

Posted on June 23, 2009 In Blog

The US Supreme Court has weighed in, in a 6-3 decision, squarely on the side of parents and private schools in a clash between public school districts and special education needs of students. In an era of 5-4 and plurality opinions, a 6-3 decision is news. In this case, good news for private school parents – and for those who believe neutral government funds can be spent on students, even in parochial/private schools.

The decision, Forest Grove School District v. T.A., has Justice Stevens writing for the majority (Chief Justice Roberts, Justices Alito, Breyer, Ginsburg and Kennedy) while retiring Justice Souter penned the dissent, which was joined by Scalia and Thomas. The law in question IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act) requires tuition reimbursement for special education if the school district fails to offer a “free, appropriate” public education. Forest Grove argued that the parents must first put their child in the school’s special education program and could not unilaterally place the child in a private school and then ask for legally required reimbursement.

The Court firmly disagreed, with Justice Stevens writing “A reading of the act [IDEA] that left parents without an adequate remedy when a school district unreasonably failed to identify a child with disabilities would not comport with Congress’s acknowledgment of the paramount importance of properly identifying each child for services.” This is good news for parents of children in Jewish day schools and others where the public schools fail to offer appropriate special education their child, and removes an unnecessary legal and bureaucratic burden, while putting the educational decisions for children where it belongs – with parents.

Read the whole decision here.