On Monday June 22, 2009,  the Supreme Court determined that parents of disabled children can seek reimbursement for private education expenses regardless whether their child had formerly received special-education services from a public school.  The Court held by a vote of six to three that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) authorizes reimbursement whenever a public school fails to make a” free appropriate public education” (FAPE) available to a child with a disability. 

Writing for the majority, Justice Stevens, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Breyer, Ginsburg, Kennedy, relied on the Court’s earlier decisions in School Committee of Burlington v. Department of Education of Massachusetts and Florence County School District Four v. Carter, which held that the stipulation authorizing a court to “grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate,” Section 1415(i)(2)(C)(iii), included private school reimbursement.

The children in those cases received Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and the resulting services from their public school districts, but their parents claimed the IEPs were insufficient.  In this case, T.A. never received an IEP or any services at all.  The Court stated today that those differences are beside the point.  The reasoning of Burlington applies equally to a child who has not gotten an IEP, and reimbursement is allowed unless the 1997 amendments to the IDEA require a different result. The Court also held that reimbursement was merely a part of the obligation to provide a FAPE, and that in any event the States had been put on notice by Burlington.     

Justice Souter’s dissent, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas, agreed with Forest Grove that Section 1412(a)(10)(C) was meant to limit reimbursement to children who had previously received special education services from a public school. 

To read the entire decision, click on the link below:

Supreme Court Decision:  Forest Grove v T A