The Supreme Court’s Reassessment of Parental Placement Under the IDEA: Forest Grove School District v. T.A.

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Education Law Reporter


forest grove, reimburse, parents, students with disabilities, idea


In Forest Grove School District v. T.A., the Supreme Court in 2009 rendered its third decision in the past twenty–four years on the right of parents who have unilaterally placed their children in a private school to be reimbursed under the IDEA for the cost of the private school education. In the first case to reach the Supreme Court, School Committee of Burlington v. Department of Education of Massachusetts, the Court held that reimbursement to parents for the unilateral placement of their children in private schools did not constitute the awarding of damages and was permissible even if the parents had chosen to make their unilateral placement decision while the IDEA's administrative due process was still in its hearing stage. Eight years after Burlington, the Court in, another unanimous decision, Florence County School District Four v. Carter (Florence County), held that reimbursement could apply even if the private school chosen by the parents was not on the state's approved list of private schools. Both Burlington and Florence County involved parent claims that public school districts had failed to provide their children with IEPs that satisfied the IDEA's assurance of a free appropriate public education (FAPE). In Forest Grove, the Supreme Court *2 held, this time in a 6–3 decision, THAT THE IDEA did not PRECLUDE reimbursement, even though the public school, prior to the parents' private school placement, had never provided a student with an IEP and special education services. The Court's decision in Forest Grove represented, as had the Court's earlier decisions in Burlington and Florence County, a careful parsing of congressional intent in defining the rights and responsibilities of parents and school districts under the IDEA. This article is divided into five sections. Section I discusses the range of issues that arose following the Supreme Court's decisions in Burlington and Florence County and how lower federal courts chose to address them. Section II presents the changes that Congress made in 1997 to the IDEA affecting parental reimbursement. Section III examines how those changes have impacted the balancing of the respective rights and responsibilities of parties involved. Section IV reviews the Supreme Court's Forest Grove decision. Section V analyzes the impact of Forest Grove on public schools and the implications for statutory and administrative decision–making.


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