Case Law governing special education law
The Leading Court Decisions
T.H. v. Board of Education of Palatine Community Consol. Sch. District, No. 98 C.4633, 98 C 4632 (N.D. Illinois, 1999). On the District's motion for summary judgment and the child's cross motion for summary judgment, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois held that the district had failed to invididualize its early childhood program, which the court termed "absurd" to meet the needs of T.H. The District Court further termed the district's IEP process "dysfunctional" and held that the district was liable to reimburse T.H.'s parents for the costs of their home-based ABA program, as well as all their attorneys' fees incurred through the Level I and II proceedings, as well as at the District Court level (the level which I participated as counsel). At the outset, T.H.'s parents offered to settle the dispute for approximately $17,000. The district dug in its heels, forcing T.H.'s parents to endure proceedings at three different levels. The district, which lost at every level, ultimately had to pay out several hundred thousand dollars, including substantial attorneys'fees. Cedar Rapids Community School District v. Garret F.; 1999 WL 104410 (U.S. Iowa, Decided March 3, 1999). United States Supreme Court (Justice Stevens writing for the majority): IDEA requires the provision of "continuous 1:1 nursing services" which qualify as "related services," and which are not excludable as "medical services" under Tatro decision [468 U.S. 883 (1984], reasoning that student would not be able to benefit educationally without the provision of such nursing services continuously during the school day. NOTE: Although the majority noted that the district "may have legitimate financial concerns," it nevertheless held that it would not adopt any "undue financial burden" test and that in order to fulfill the purposes of IDEA, "....the district must fund such "related services"[without regard to the cost]..." Justices Stevens, Rehnquist, O'Connor, Scalia, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer joined in the majority opinion. Justices Thomas and Kennedy (dissenting), argued that "...this approach blindsides unwary States with fiscal obligations that they could not have anticipated." Board of Education [Hendrick Hudson Central School District] v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (1982). The Rowley case is often cited by school districts for the general proposition that the school district or municipality need not provide "optimum" services, and need only provide services which are "appropriate." The Rowley case also is cited by parents since the United States Supreme Court explained that an "appropriate" educational plan is one which is "individualized," "tailored," "personalized," and "specially designed" to meet the "unique needs" of the individual child who is the subject of the educational plan. The Rowley decision is important since it confirms that parents are given an important role in the IEP process. As the Supreme Court explained: "The primary responsibility for formulating the education to be accorded a handicapped child, and for choosing the educational method most suitable to the child's needs, was left by the Act to state and local educational agencies in cooperation with the parents or guardian of the child."Burlington School Comm. v. Mass. Dep't of Education, 471 U.S. 359 (1985). In Burlington, the United States Supreme Court held that reviewing courts have the authority to order reimbursement of parents for expenditures made to provide their children with appropriate private special education if the state provided services are determined to be inappropriate and the private education services obtained by the parents are appropriate.
Important Tax Deductibility Ruling
[CCH Dec.52,596(M)]Steven A. Lenn and Ksenia Lenn v. Commissioner [of the Internal Revenue Service].[Docket No. 3981-96. Filed February 26, 1998]The petitioners, who have a son with a disability under IDEA, unsuccessfully sued their school district in order to obtain tuition reimbursement for a residential outplacement. The petitioners were allowed by the IRS to deduct the private tuition costs as "medical expenses," to the extent allowable under Section 213 of the Internal Revenue Code ("IRC"). The Commissioner, however, disallowed the petitioner's efforts to deduct, as Section 213 "medical expenses", the legal expenses incurred in the lawsuit, on the grounds that the (unsuccessful) lawsuit was "not necessary" for the child to attend the school.Note: If the taxpayers had successfully sued their school district, the lawsuit arguably would have been "necessary" for the placement and the cost of the lawsuit might have been held deductible as incidental to "medical expenses" under Gerstacker v. Commissioner, 414 F.2d 448 (6th Cir. 1969). On the other hand, a successful due process hearing by a parent, unless appealed over multiple tax years, could render the tax deductibility issue moot, to the extent that a successful due process hearing normally results in an award of attorneys' fees to the prevailing parent.
High Court Says No To Punitive Damages Under ADA, 504
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down an appellate court ruling that allowed punitive damages in private suits brought under the ADA and Section 504. Barnes v. Gorman, 102 LRP 11717 (U.S. 2002). The High Court applied a contract law analogy to determine the scope of available remedies under the statutes, noting punitive damages generally are not available for breach of contract.
U.S. Supreme Court Rules Students Can't Sue Over Privacy
Students can't sue schools and colleges that improperly release their grades or other personal information, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gonzaga University v. John Doe. The 7-2 ruling said the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, gives "no specific, individually enforceable rights," leaving it to the Education Department to punish a school by stripping its federal funding.
School vouchers, wider use of school drug tests affirmed
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision recently in which it approved random drug tests for any public high school students who join competitive after-school activities or teams. The court ruled that a school's interest in getting rid of drugs outweighs a student's privacy rights. The random tests had previously been allowed only for student-athletes. In a separate decision, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Cleveland's tax-funded school vouchers are Constitutional because they do not violate the required separation of church and state. The ruling paves the way for more school-voucher programs.
Seventh Circuit cases of interest:
District's IEP Satisfies 7TH Circuit; Parent Loses Reimbursement Claim
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backed the IEP created for a high-schooler with LD, ruling the district properly considered the student's need for ESY services and proposed new techniques to improve on its already successful efforts. Todd ex rel. R.T. v. Duneland Sch. Corp., 102 LRP 18680 (7th Cir.2002).
The parent, who sought private placement reimbursement, could not support her contention that her son did not deserve promotion from grade to grade.
Homebound Placement Reasonable After Student's Past Failures
Struck by a 13-year-old's "disastrous history" of attending classes in any school environment other than that of the mental institution where he was confined for seven months, the court concluded the district met its FAPE obligation by proposing a homebound program. School Dist. of Wisconsin Dells v.Z.S. by Littlegeorge, 102 LRP 13020 (7th Cir. 2002).
Top of Page