Education Law

Special Education: School District Must Pay Private School

Supreme Court Extends Special Education Rights

Some Oregon parents grew fed up with their local school's failure to help their son with his learning problems. Like many students, he had difficulty paying attention in class and he struggled to complete assignments. But public school officials found he didn't have a learning disability, so they denied his parents' pleas for special education services.

After an outside specialist diagnosed the boy as having ADHD, his parents put him in a private school for children with special needs and he did much better. The US Supreme Court ruled last month that the public school district may have to pay back the boy's parents for the cost of that private schooling.

Parents Can Sue School District for Private School Tuition

In Forest Grove School District vs. T.A. the Supreme Court explained that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to give disabled children a free and appropriate education. Districts that don't provide this schooling can be ordered to pay parents for the cost of private school tuition.

The Court also ruled that the parents could sue the school district even though they decided on their own to transfer their child to a private school. It also didn't matter that their son hadn't previously received any special education services from the public school.

What's Best for Your Child

The Supreme Court's decision doesn't mean you can simply move your child to a private school and expect your public school district to pay the cost. Education and legal experts agree that you must first try to work with your school to satisfy your child's educational needs. If you and the school officials disagree on the best action for your child, the law requires that you follow a series of appeals to work out your differences.

Factors to Determine Parent Awards

To determine whether a school district must pay back parents for private special education costs, courts and hearing officers consider several factors. These include asking:

  • Did the public school district fail to provide the appropriate education to a disabled child?
  • Is the private school placement or other private special-education costs appropriate?
  • Did the school district have adequate notice of their child's educational needs?
  • Did the public school district have opportunities to evaluate the child and his needs?

Is Your Child's School Meeting Your Child's Needs?

Are you concerned that your school isn't doing enough to meet your child's special education needs? Talk to your school principal or counselor about it. And you may want to consult with an Education or School Law attorney in your area about your situation.

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