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Supreme Court Cases


In the 30 years since the special education law was enacted, the U. S. Supreme Court has only heard a few cases that directly involved special education cases. The most important ones:

Board of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist. v. Rowley 458 U.S. 176 (1982)
First decision in a special education case; defined "free appropriate public education."

Burlington Sch. Committee v. Mass. Bd. of Ed., 471 U. S. 359 (1985).
Clarified procedural safeguards, parent role in educational decision-making; tuition reimbursement for private placement; child's placement during dispute about FAPE.

Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305 (1988).
Strong decision in school discipline case on behalf of emotionally disturbed children who had academic and social problems. Court clarified procedural issues designed to protect children from school officials, parent role, stay put, that schools shall not expel children for behaviors related to their handicaps.

Florence Co. Sch Dist Four v. Shannon Carter, 510 U.S. 7, (1993).
If the public school program does not provide an appropriate education and the parents place the child into a private program where the child does receive an appropriate education, the parents are entitled to reimbursement for the child's education. This decision opened the door to children with autism who receive ABA / Lovaas therapy. Links to all decisions, transcript of oral argument in Carter

Cedar Rapids v. Garret F. (1999)
Affirmed that schools must provide related services to children who need services to attend school.

Schaeffer v. Weast (2005)
Puts burden of proof on party bringing the action in a special education matter. Prior to this, the Seventh Circuit had placed that burden on the school and/or cooperative, without regard to who initiated the action.

Forest Grove v. T.D., 129 S. Ct. 987 08-305, 109 LRP 13476 (2009)

The Supreme Court of the United States held that the IDEA authorizes reimbursement for private special-education services when a public school fails to provide a FAPE and the private school placement is appropriate, regardless of whether the child previously received services through the public school. (Pp. 6–17.) The court said: “Moreover, when a child requires special-education services, a school district’s failure to propose an IEP of any kind is at least as serious a violation of its responsibilities under IDEA as a failure to provide an adequate IEP.” Id. at 8. The court noted, “we conclude that IDEA authorizes reimbursement for the cost of private special education services when a school district fails to provide a FAPE and the private-school placement is appropriate, regardless of whether the child previously received special education or related services through the public school.” Id at 19.

Prior to this, there was a split among the federal court circuits as to whether 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(10)(C) created a categorical bar to reimbursement of private school tuition for students who have not ‘previously received special education and related services. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that:

This dispute "... differs from Burlington and Carter in that it concerns not the adequacy of a proposed IEP but the School District's failure to provide an IEP at all . . . moreover, when a child requires special education services, a school district's failure to propose an IEP of any kind is at least as serious a violation of its responsibilities under IDEA as a failure to provide an adequate IEP."

"The District's position similarly conflicts with IDEA's 'Child find' requirement . . . [requiring States] .. to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities' to ensure that they receive needed special education services."

"Indeed, by immunizing a school district's refusal to find a child eligible for special education services no matter how compelling the child's need, the School District's interpretation [of the statute] would produce a rule bordering on the irrational."

This would "leave parents without relief in the more egregious situation in which the school district unreasonably denies a child access to such services altogether."

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