Supreme Court to Hear Tuition Reimbursement Case: Forest Grove v. T.A.

     On April 28, 2009, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Forest Grove v. T.A. The issue is whether the school district can be required under the IDEA to reimburse parents for private school tuition when the school had not previously recognized the student’s need for special education. 

     The case involves a family in Oregon who withdrew their son from the Forest Grove School District because they believed he was not receiving an appropriate education. During his freshman year the student was referred for an evaluation to determine if he had a learning disability under the IDEA. The team, however, determined that he did not have a learning disability and was ineligible for special education services. At the time his parents did not disagree with that determination. During his sophomore year the student began having difficulties and eventually ran away from home. As a result he was taken to see a psychologist who diagnosed him as having ADHD, depression, math disorder, and cannabis abuse. The psychologist also recommended that he attend a residential program. Thus, his parents enrolled him in Mount Bachelor Academy, a private residential school, and the parents also requested a hearing to require that the Forest Grove School District evaluate him for special education eligibility. 

     As a result, the school district’s multi-disciplinary team determined that the student had ADHD and depression. They did not, however, find him eligible for special education services under the IDEA because the team concluded his ADHD and depression did not have a severe enough effect on his educational performance. 

     This led to the parents requesting a due process hearing. The hearing officer ruled that the boy was eligible for services under the IDEA and Section 504; that the school district had not offered an appropriate program; and that the school district was responsible for the costs of the private school, Mount Bachelor Academy. The school district appealed to U.S. District Court, arguing that tuition reimbursement was inappropriate because the student had been unilaterally withdrawn from school without notice to the school district and he had never received special education services from the district. The District Court ruled for the school district, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for the parents and reinstated the hearing officer’s decision. 

     The Supreme Court accepted the case for review and oral argument will be heard April 28th. The Court had previously heard a similar case in 2007(see my post Supreme Court Affirms Tuition Reimbursement for Private School Placement). In that case Justice Kennedy recused himself, and the other justices affirmed by a four to four vote a decision allowing a father repayment of private school tuition. 

     In Forest Grove v T.L. the issue that the Supreme Court is deciding is:

     Whether the IDEA permits an award of private-school tuition reimbursement when a child with a disability has been denied a free appropriate public education, but has not “previously received special education and related services under the authority of a public agency,”

     Of course the school district and parents have filed briefs before the Court. But a number of entities have filed friend of the court briefs. Briefs in support of the parents include: the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Disability Rights Network. Briefs in support of the school district include: The New York School Boards Association  and the National School Boards Association.











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