Special Education Caselaw
U. S. Supreme Court l Courts of Appeals
District Courts l Noteworthy Cases
Anchorage School District v. MP (9th Cir. 2012) - Court awards reimbursement to the parents, noting that "we are sympathetic to the difficulties posed by the obviously strained relationship between the ASD and M.P.'s parents, but this circumstance does not excuse the ASD from compliance with the IDEA. To conclude otherwise would subvert the purposes of the IDEA and sanction a school district's unilateral decision to abandon its statutorily required responsibility to the detriment of its students."
Brown v. Bd of Education, 347 U. S. 483 (1954). In this landmark decision, the Supreme Court found that segregated public schools are inherently unequal; decision is relevant to children in segregated special education placements.
Board of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist. v. Rowley 458 U.S. 176 (1982). First decision in a special education case by the U. S. Supreme Court; defined "free appropriate public education.
Irving Independent Sch. Dist. v. Amber Tatro 468 U.S. 883 (1984) - The Supreme Court found that a medical treatment, such as clean intermittent catheterization (CIC), is a related service under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and that the school is required to provide it.
Burlington Sch. Committee v. Mass. Bd. of Ed., 471 U. S. 359 (1985). Decision clarifies procedural safeguards, parent role in educational decision-making; tuition reimbursement for private placement; child's placement during dispute about FAPE.
Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305 (1988). Strong decision in school discipline case on behalf of emotionally disturbed children who had academic and social problems. Court clarified procedural issues designed to protect children from school officials, parent role, stay put, that schools shall not expel children for behaviors related to their handicaps.
Florence Co. Sch Dist Four v. Shannon Carter, 510 U.S. 7, (1993). In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court found that if the public school fails to provide an appropriate education and the child receives an appropriate education in a private placement, the parents are entitled to be reimbursed for the child's education, even if the private school does not comply with state standards. This ruling opened the door to children with autism who receive ABA/Lovaas therapy. Listen to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor read the decision. Links to all decisions in Carter
Listen to Oral Argument in Florence County School District IV v. Shannon Carter by Pete Wright in sync with written transcript. In preparing for oral argument before the Supreme Court, Pete learned, "Tell the story and make them want to rule in your favor in a minute and a half." in pdf in html
Cedar Rapids v. Garret F., 526 U.S. 66 (1999) - Supreme Court issued a favorable decision on behalf of child who needed related services to attend school. Analysis
Davis v. Monroe Bd. of Education (1999). U. S. Supreme Court decision in sexual harrassment case.
v. Simmons-Harris, et.al (2002) . The Supreme Court
ruled that the Cleveland voucher program for students who attend failing
schools is constitutional and does not violate the Establishment Clause.
Arlington Central Sch. Dist. Bd of Ed v. Pearl and Theodore Murphy, 548 U.S._(2006) - In a 6-3 decison, the Supreme Court ruled that prevailing parents are not entitled to recover fees for services rendered by experts in IDEA actions. Analysis of Murphy v. Arlington by Pete Wright, Esq.
Winkelman v. Parma City School District (No. 05-983) (2007) - Supreme Court rules that parents may represent their children's interests in special education cases, and are not required to hire a lawyer before going to court. The Court held that parents have legal rights under the IDEA and can pursue IDEA claims on their own behalf, although they are not licensed attorneys. Decision in html and in pdf.
Bd of Ed of City of New York v. Tom F (2007). The question before the Court was whether parents of a child who has never received special education from the public school district can obtain reimbursement for a unilateral private placement. The U. S. Supreme Court issued a split decision (4-4) in the case. Justice Kennedy recused himself. The favorable decision stands for families who live in the Second Circuit - Connecticut, New York, and Vermont. Read about the key events in A Short History of New York Bd of Education v. Tom F., on Behalf of Gilbert F.
A.K., a minor by his Parents and Next Friends J.K. and E.S., v. Alexandria City School Bd. (4th Cir. 2007) - Decision affirmed policies served by the requirement of a formal written offer that creates "a clear record of the educational placement and other services offered to the parents." The school district's "offer of an unspecified 'private day school' was essentially no offer at all.
Amanda C. v. Clark Co Sch. Dist. & Nevada Dept. of Ed, (9th Cir. 2001) This strongly written decision cites research about ABA/Lovaas treatment; describes purposes of the IDEA; IEPs and proceduralsafeguards. District's failure to provide parents with evaluations adversely affected parents' ability to make decisions and damaged child; district failed to provide FAPE; standard of review in two-tier system; credibility of witnesses.
Anchorage School District v. MP (9th Cir. 2012) In awarding reimbursement to the parents, the Court noted that "we are sympathetic to the difficulties posed by the obviously strained relationship between the ASD and M.P.'s parents, but this circumstance does not excuse the ASD from compliance with the IDEA. To conclude otherwise would subvert the purposes of the IDEA and sanction a school district's unilateral decision to abandon its statutorily required responsibility to the detriment of its students."
v. Rose (4th Cir. 1999)
Stong decision on behalf of depressed child who was tormented and
humiliated by her teacher.
Cleveland Heights-University Heights v. Sommer Boss (6th Cir. 1998) Case involves vague IEP goals & objectives, failure to provide FAPE, tuition reimbursement.
Collingsru v. Palmyra Bd. of Education (3rd Cir. 1998) Can a non-attorney parent represent his or her child in court? Why? Why not?
Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities v. Hartford Bd of Educ, Hartford Public Schools and Robert Henry, Sup. of Schools (2nd Cir 2006) The Court held that the P & A has a statutory responsibility to investigate suspected cases of abuse and neglect of individuals with disabilities or mental illness and found probable cause that "multiple individuals have been subjected to abuse or neglect" at Hartford Transitional Academy.
Disability Rights Wisconsin, Inc., v. v. Wisconsin Dept. of Public Instruction & Elizabeth Burmaster, Superintendent of Public Instruction (7th Cir. 2006) The decision includes a detailed description of the responsibilities of P & As to protect individuals with disabilities, limitations on confidentiality under the Family Educational Rights to Privacy Act, and other issues.
Deal v. Hamilton County TN Board of Ed (6th Cir. 2004) Wide-ranging decision about standard
of review, additional evidence, judicial notice, procedural &
substantive IDEA violations, FAPE, educational benefit, predetermination
of placement, failure to include regular ed teacher, reimbursement.
Erickson v. Bd. Ed. Baltimore County (4th Cir. 1998) Decision focuses on attorneys' fees for prevailing parent attorneys who represent their children. .
v. Garst (8th Cir. 2001) Three
special ed teachers filed suit against principal who tried to block
them from advocating for students; free speech v. employers rights.
in Fales v. Garst
Forest Grove v. T.A.-II. On remand from the Supreme Court, the U.S. District Court holds that boy had drug and behavior problems; that parental placement in a private school was for non-disability reasons so parents not entitled to reimbursement for his tuition. In a split decision, the 9th Circuit upheld the District Court's ruling. Read new decision in Forest Grove v. T.A.-2 (4/27/11)
G. v. Fort Bragg Dependent Schools (4th Cir. 2003). ABA/Lovaas case; rights of children who attend Dept of Defense schools; FAPE & educational benefit; methodology; reimbursement for home-based Lovaas program; procedural safeguards and notice by parents; compensatory education for failure to provide FAPE; prevailing party status & attorneys fees.
v. Cumberland Valley (3rd Cir. 1999)
Tuition reimbursement for 2 children with dyslexia, LRE and "vigorous advocacy" by parents.
Jaynes v. Newport News Public Schools (4th Cir. 2001) Case on behalf of child with autism whose parents provided intensive homebased ABA/Lovaas program; statutes of limitations, procedural safeguards, notice requirements, and reimbursement.
JP v. Sch. Bd of Hanover County VA (4th Cir. 2008). Reversed decision of the District Court regardling deference to hearing officer's findings of fact; remanded to District Court to reconsider if IEP offered by school provided child with FAPE.
In December 2008, the U.S. District Court issued a new decision in JP v. School Board of Hanover County VA (E.D. VA 2008), found that the State Hearing Officer's "decision was not consistent with the record, that HCPS did not provide JP with a FAPE during the 2005-2006 school year, and that the parents were entitled to tuition reimbursement for their child's placement at a private special education school. More info
J. S. v. Isle of Wight VA Sch. Bd (4th Cir. 2005) Money damages are not available because Congress intended disabled children to pursue claims to FAPE through remedial mechanisms in the IDEA statute; extensive discussion of statute of limitations and federal "borrowing" doctrine.
and J.B. ex rel. K.B. v. Nebo UT School District (10th Cir. 2004) Parents of child with autism reimbursed
for ABA therapy and private preschool which was LRE; impartiality of
No. 284 Wayzata Schools v. A.C. (8th Cir. 2001) Decision about need to pay costs of residential
program for child with emotional and behavioral problems; overturns
ruling in federal district court that residential placement was
not "educationally necessary."
v. East Islip (2nd Cir. 1998) Decision about eligibility, damages, discusses Rowley,
v. Bd Ed. Newburgh City Sch. Dist. (2nd Cir. 2002) In damages case under Section 504 and
ADA, court rules that disabled child must first exhaust administrative
remedies under IDEA. Decision includes extensive discussion of
relief under statutes, compensatory and punitive damages, exhaustion
requirement, and futility exception.
R.E., M.E., et al v. NYC Dept of Education (2nd Cir. 2012) - 2nd Circuit adopts the “snap-shot” rule to judge the adequacy of an IEP written in Burlington/Carter reimbursement cases; held that retrospective testimony about additional services that the also district "would have provided," but which were not offered in the IEP, cannot be used to rehabilitate an IEP or prove its adequacy.
v. Manassas, (4th Cir. 1998)
Court finds that damages are not available under IDEA and Section
v. Florida Union Free School District (2nd Cir. 1998) Case about tuition reimbursement, maximizing
v. appropriate; parents are not entitled to what is "best"
for their children.
Weiss v. School Board of Hillsborough County (11th Cir. 1998) Case about damages, procedural violations; denial of FAPE.
Westendorp v. Independent School District No. 273 (8th Cir. 1998) Provision of special education services at a private religous school; right to services under IDEA v. IDEA 97. Note: caselaw around the country is inconsistent about this issue.
Jacob Winkelman, et al. v. Parma City Schools (6th Cir. 2005) - Court held that "IDEA does not grant parents the right to represent their child in federal court." Unless parents retain an attorney, the child's case will be dismissed. The Supreme Court granted cert to resolve a split among circuits on this issue; a decision is expected during the 2006-2007 term. (pdf format)
Winkelman v. Parma City Sch. Dist. (6th Cir. 2006) In a case on behalf of a child with autism, Court held that the school district's proposed placement was appropriate, that the parents' placement in a private school that educates children with autism was not the child's "stay put" placement pursuant to IDEA. (pdf format)
Yankton School District v. Schramm (8th Cir. 1996) Eligibility, Section 504, termination of special education services, attorney's fees.
Decisions from U. S. District Courts
2/19/2013 - PV v. Philadelphia - The US District Court Judge approved the case as a class action suit and held that the process of changing placements of children with autism without convening IEP meetings, excluding parents participation, minimal notice about the new placement with educational placement decisions made by division directors violated IDEA.
Consolidated Sch. Dist. #93 v. John F. (IL) (N.D. IL 2000) Important discipline
case; procedural violations, prior written notice requirements, manifestation
determination review, suspensions for more than 10 days, expedited hearings,
special education and related services under IDEA, "passing grades"
and FAPE, homebound instruction violates LRE, more. In
Evans v. Rhinebeck Central Sch Dist, (S.D. NY 1996) Excellent case about tuition reimbursement, procedural and substantive issues, FAPE, dyslexia, objective measurement of progress.
v. Howard Co. Schools (MD 1994) Tuition
reimbursement for private non-special ed school; inappropropriate IEP
goals and objectives for child with dyslexia. Parent's counsel, Wayne
Steedman charted new territory with this case.
Jacob Winkelman v. Parma City School District (N.D. OH 2005). Challenging the decision of the State Board of Education that the District's proposed program was the LRE and provided FAPE under IDEA, the Winkelmans requested, as pro se litigants, that the district court reverse the administrative decisions and reimburse them for the cost of all education related services and placements. The court denied the Winkelmans' motion and granted the District's motion.
Bd. of Ed of Kanawha WV v. Michael M. (W VA 2000), IEPs, "appropriate", burden of proof, autism, reimbursement for ABA program. Excellent discussion of an "appropriate" program; recommended reading for attorneys who represent children with disabilities and their witnesses. Order re: home-based Lovaas /ABA program.
Daniel Lawyer v. Chesterfield Sch. Bd (E.D. VA 1993) This decision includes good discussion about factors to consider in extended school year (ESY), including regression and recoupment, autism and neurological windows of opportunity.
Mr. X v. NY (S.D. NY 1997) Excellent case includes comprehensive discussion of autism, Lovaas, ABA therapy and TEACCH.
(MD) One of the earliest and leading cases about extended school year (ESY).
H. v. Palatine, (N.D. IL 1999) Comprehensive decision
in ABA-Lovaas case. Includes thorough discussion of the IEP process,
the need to individualize the IEP, methodology and placement issues.
(This decision is in pdf format)
Other Noteworthy Decisions + Documents
The parents' "Letter to the Stranger" and James Brody's description of the due process hearing are among dozens of articles in The Advocacy Libraries.
Zachary Deal v. Hamilton Dept of Educ (TN Due Process Decision 2001) The administrative law judge issues 45 page decision after a 27-day due process hearing; finds procedural safeguards and LRE violations; substantive violations; discusses credibility problems with school witnesses re: closed minds, evasiveness.
Doe v. Withers. Case stood for two significant propositions: that schools and teachers can be held accountable for refusing to follow IEPs and that schools and teachers can be sued for dollar damages in jury trials. This was the first special education jury trial against public school educators. Click here to read the Complaint and here to read the Jury Order in Doe v. Withers.
In RE ISD 318, (MN Review Decision) Autism, Lovaas, ABA therapy. Parent's counsel Sonja Kerr wrote great advice letter to lawyer handling first special ed case.
Witness tampering and obstruction of justice are discussed in a comprehensive article published by the Congressional Research Service on April 17, 2014.
Note to Non-lawyers
U.S. Supreme Court cases are supreme. Cases from U. S. Courts of Appeals are the next highest level of judicial decisions. Rulings from a U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals have binding authority over the Courts in the states of that Circuit.
It is important
to stay on top of the rulings of the U. S. Courts of Appeals.
States may not be bound by a ruling from a different circuit but may
rely upon a decision as "persuasive authority." When the
Circuits have "split" rulings on the same issue, i.e., different
legal outcomes from similar issues of fact and or law, these cases have
a higher probability of being accepted for review by the U. S.
Supreme Court. This is what happened in Shannon Carter's case.
Parents, as you read these cases, do not focus on your child's disability and how the facts in the case are different from your child. Substitute your child's disability with the one discussed in the case. While the facts may change, so often the legal principles are the same, without regard to the particular disability. Do not have tunnel vision as you read. Consciously think about how the ruling in this case relates to your child.