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Federal Court Rules Parent May Be Compensated For ABA Services for Own Child

Note: This article is from Mayerslaw.com. A link to the Bucks County decision is at the end of the article.

In what apparently is a case of first impression nationally, the federal district court in Philadelphia (Schiller, J.) held that under appropriate circumstances, a parent who is compelled to provide a portion of their child’s “appropriate” Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) intervention program may be compensated by the local educational agency for the value of such service. (A link to the full text of the District Court’s decision in Bucks County Department of Mental Health v. De Mora is at the end of this summary.)

While the District Court held that the federal IDEA statute is broad enough to encompass direct compensation to parents, it cautioned that its decision would be limited to the situation where (a) the local educational agency fails to provide a free and appropriate public education, (b) the parent supplies services which are established to be “appropriate,” and (c) the parent receives training.

The holding in Bucks County can thus be viewed as a natural extension of the prior holdings of the United States Supreme Court in cases such as Florence County v. Carter, which have held that parents may be reimbursed for the cost of securing private service providers where there is a showing that the educational program offered by the local educational agency is not appropriate, coupled with a showing that the services provided by the private provider are appropriate (assuming that there is no equitable bar to such relief).

To our knowledge, the Bucks County decision is the first court decision decided at the federal level that has held that under appropriate circumstances, parents may be directly compensated for having to fulfill ABA intervention services that the school district should have been providing.

Background

In Bucks County, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania had previously held that Bucks County had failed to offer an appropriate educational program and that the Lovaas-style ABA program put together by the child’s mother was appropriate.

On remand, the local level hearing officer held that the child’s parents should be reimbursed for the cost of the child’s private “Lovaas” (ABA) consultant and that the child’s mother should be paid approximately $6,000 for having provided a portion of the ABA intervention time under the training and supervision of the private ABA consultant and supervisor.

Bucks County appealed to the federal District Court from that determination, but only with respect to the local level hearing officer’s holding that the child’s parent should be directly compensated for the time she had spent providing ABA therapy to her child under the direct training and supervision of the private ABA consultant/ supervisor.

Parent as ABA Therapist

In this connection, the child’s mother put in an affidavit demonstrating that she had attempted to secure additional (private) ABA service providers, but that she was unable to do so. Thus, the record showed that the mother was compelled to become an ABA instructor to help to fulfill the balance of the ABA intervention time (which the Commonwealth Court had already held was “appropriate”).

In Bucks County, the District Court approved the mother’s hourly rate of $22 per hour, which was approximately half the hourly rate charged by the ABA consultant/ supervisor. The local level hearing officer specifically found that the mother’s hourly rate was within “market.”

Significantly, the District Court held that it was irrelevant that the child’s mother was not “certified” or licensed. As the District Court explained, under Carter, it was not even necessary for the ABA consultant supervisor to be licensed or certified by the State of Pennsylvania, with the sole inquiry being whether the services were “appropriate.”

The District Court held that it did not even have to reach the appropriateness issue, as it had already been determined by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, and there had been no appeal taken on that issue.

The Bucks County decision, in the absence of controlling authority to the contrary from a state’s highest court or one of its own federal courts, is now precedent across the country. However, it is important to understand its limitations.

Limitations

The District Court’s decision does not stand for the proposition that parents should expect that they will be compensated by school districts for having entirely home-grown ABA programs.

Nor does it stand for the proposition that parents will be compensated for acting in the role of “parents.”

Rather, it provides a potential remedy for parents who are left with the “Sophie’s Choice” of directly fulfilling ABA hours, or having their child go without.

Practical Tips

Parents faced with a Bucks County type situation should consult with their own counsel, but should probably treat the situation as if they had to go out and hire private providers.

By way of example, assume that a school district offers an IEP providing for a 35 hour per week ABA program, but fulfills only 25 hours per week of direct service hours, claiming that they cannot find additional therapists to fulfill the rest of the “direct” intervention hours. To the extent that the parent can afford to do so, the parent should first try to find outside therapists who are ready, willing and able to fulfill the balance of the ABA hours. If the parent cannot afford to hire outside therapists and thereafter seek reimbursement, or if the parent, after diligent efforts, cannot find additional, “outside” ABA therapists, the parent might then make plans to directly fulfill the balance of the ABA hours, under the training and supervision of someone with an appropriate level of expertise.

A parent who wants to preserve any hope at this kind of a claim clearly must keep excellent records of their time by date, hours provided, and what "programs," etc. were worked on. In other words, parents should keep track of their intervention time as if they were private providers. At the very least, when the district claims that they are fully responsible for the child's progress, the parent can whip out the data which proves the parent's contribution.

It is important to keep the district informed and, as noted above, it is essential that parents consult with counsel before going this route.

Unanswered Questions

One unanswered question in the wake of Bucks County is how courts might apply statutes of limitation and the doctrine of laches to bar direct compensation claims brought by parents for earlier time frames.

What if, for example, a parent already brought and won a Carter-type reimbursement case for the 2001-2002 school year but made no claim to be compensated for ABA hours directly supplied by the child’s parent (because there was no clear authority from a court allowing such relief)?

Once again, it is essential to consult with counsel, as these considerations will vary from state to state and from district to district. It also is important to understand that the Bucks County decision is limited in its applicability, and that parents need to be prepared to meet the standards set out by the district court.

For the full text of the District Court’s Decision in Bucks County, please click on the link below.

Download the Bucks County Decision (Adobe PDF - 784 KB) from Mayerslaw:

http://www.mayerslaw.com/downloads/MAYERSON_DECISION_10-4-02.pdf


Gary Mayerson

Gary Mayerson is a well-known attorney who has represented parents in many high-profile cases, including a 27-day due process hearing in Zachary Deal v. Hamilton County Department of Education. Read his analysis of Deal v. Hamilton County Dept of Educ.

Gary Mayerson, Esq.
Mayerson & Associates
250 West 57th Street
Suite 624
New York, NY 10107
Phone: 212-265-7200
Website: http://www.mayerslaw.com

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