NASET News Alert

Supreme Court Weighs Special Education Law

October 09, 2007

Does IDEA provide for public tuition reimbursement for private school when a child has not previously received special education from a public school?

The Supreme Court began its 2007 term by hearing arguments in a case that could affect the six million children who receive special education in the United States.

At issue is the nation's cornerstone special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA mandates public school systems to ensure a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for special-needs children in their district.

In some cases, that means that if a public school does not have an adequate special education program for a student, the district will pay for that student to attend a private school that does.

The case before the Court, School Board of New York City vs. Tom F., asks whether taxpayers should pay to send a child with a disability to a private school if that child has not first tried a special education program offered by a public school.

The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) guarantees students with disabilities a "free appropriate public education." Tom Freston enrolled his son Gilbert in a private school for students with special needs, because the New York City school district was unable to establish an adequate "individualized education program." The school district reimbursed Freston for the private school tuition. After two years the school district offered to place Gilbert in another public school, but Freston chose to keep his son in private school and again sought tuition reimbursement from the district.

A U.S. district court ruled that the school district was not required by the IDEA to reimburse Freston, because Gilbert had never been enrolled in public school. 

The case before the Court, School Board of New York City vs. Tom F., asks whether taxpayers should pay to send a disabled child to a private school if that child has not first tried a special education program offered by a public school.

The question before the Court is: Does the Individuals with Disabilities Act provide for public tuition reimbursement for private school when a child has not previously received special education from a public school?

To read more about this case, School Board of New York City vs. Tom F, visit:
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/features/july-dec07/scotus_10-08.html

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