Supreme Court Issues Powerful Pro-Child Decision in Eligibility Case

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On Monday, June 22, 2009, the Supreme Court issued a powerful pro-child decision in Forest Grove School District v. T.A. This is a case about tuition reimbursement for a disabled child  who was not found eligible for special education and received no  special education services from the public school district.

The Supreme Court held that:

This dispute “…concerns not the adequacy of a proposed IEP but the School District’s failure to provide an IEP at all . . . moreover, when a child requires special education services, a school district’s failure to propose an IEP of any kind is at least as serious a violation of it’s responsibilities under IDEA as a failure to provide an adequate IEP.”

“The District’s position similarly conflicts with IDEA’s ‘Child find’ requirement . . . [requiring States] .. to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities’ to ensure that they receive needed special education services.”

“Indeed, by immunizing a school district’s refusal to find a child eligible for special education services no matter how compelling the child’s need, the School District’s interpretation [of the statute] would produce a rule bordering on the irrational.”

This would “leave parents without relief in the more egregious situation in which the school district unreasonably denies a child access to such services altogether.”

The Court ruled:

“. . . we conclude that IDEA authorizes [tuition] reimbursement for the cost of private special education services when a school district fails to provide a FAPE and the private-school placement is appropriate, regardless of whether the child previously received special education or related services through the public school.” (emphasis added)

The full text of this decision is available at:

To learn more about the case, including what happens next, read Supreme Court Issues Pro-Child Decision in Forest Grove School District v. T.A. by Peter Wright, Esq. and Pamela Wright, MA, MSW.

  1. I need to know how and where to get the profile for my child from school and scores for the last 2 years.
    Thank you

  2. David: Sorry for the delay answering.

    You quoted a school bd atty who said “many students with a profile like T.A., the student in Forest Grove, ‘could be adequately served in a public day school program… districts shouldn’t have to pay the full cost of a residential program, because I think that’s overkill,”

    The problem with this argument is that the school district refused to provide T.A. with any services at all. The parents asked that he be evaluated. The school held meetings without the parents’ knowledge and decided that T.A. was not eligible for any help. They defaulted on their obligation to provide T.A. with a FAPE.

    IMO, this may be the most important decision from the Sup Ct in the 30+ years since the IDEA was enacted. It opens doors to disabled kids who have been denied the help they need.

  3. Any comments on this analysis Pete 🙂

    “Forest Grove makes it clear that school districts should be arguing equitable considerations in tuition reimbursement cases,” Mehfoud said. “They shouldn’t just focus on the appropriateness of the public school program; they also need to focus on the extraordinary cost of the private school program [and] whether there are less expensive alternatives.” For example, many students with a profile like T.A., the student in Forest Grove, “could be adequately served in a public day school program,” she said. In such a situation, districts “shouldn’t have to pay the full cost of a residential program, because I think that’s overkill,” she said. If the hearing officer or court agrees, “then the judge could say it’s a shared-cost situation,” Mehfoud said. This applies even if parents use the IDEA’s stay-put.

  4. I realize this is a huge legal step, but I’m afraid it won’t make a difference in Texas, which is where my chronically ill son attends school. The administration feels they are above the law. They have denied my son and others special education programs that are desparately needs to be successful. His doctors, psychiatrist, psychologist, diagnostician (pd by us), have stated that he needs an IEP under IDEA and not 504 since 504 had not been followed the entire year and he needed more support due to absences and poor health. We sent emails requesting his missed assignments and a copy of class notes over and over again and rarely received his work (NEVER in a timely manner).
    No, it’s going to take too much time for this court decision to trickle down to make a difference for the disabled in Texas.

  5. T. Kin,
    I agree with you that this is quite refreshing. We too have an agreed denial of FAPE for a solid 3 years with 2 more in question. We have a private placement as well and our district continues to make mistakes over and over. We wasted almost 5 years trying the district’s failed programs that never delivered staff or services they said they would in the IEP’s. That is 5 years that we can never recover. I am so pleased that parents will have this tool to help them in the future.

  6. It is refreshing to know that school districts are being held accountable to IDEA laws.

    Our school district documented in a 2003 evaluation that they feel that my son is a child who has Aspergers. They brought in an outside contractor who is a Board Certified ABA advisor to help write a BIP. The third party evaluator noted history of being bullied and teased for involuntary facial tics.

    In 2008, the Director of Special Education replied to our request for an evaulation using the ADOS3. She reported that :”We never had reason to suspect you child has autism”.

    Needless to say this delay in identification resulted in denial of FAPE as well unnecissary legal expenses for the tax payer funded school attorney as well as my attorney.

    The Supreme Court has made a ruling that just may bring honesty back into our public schools.

  7. If I ever had a doubt that School Districts are accountable to no one, it was confirmed yesterday when we were informed that my child’s grades will be significantly reduced because of not participating in State mandated exam that the IEP documents will not be taken.

    I will file with the Office of Civil RIghts. Having been down this road before, I know most of their retaliation tactics that their attorneys and they will use.

    Children in Special Education have quite a road ahead of them if their parents expect public schools to comply with safequards that are documented in the IDEA>

  8. T. Kin-
    If the district ignores mediation agreements, you should be contacting the mediator. Mediation is binding on both sides and ignoring the agreement is cause for due process. A hearing officer should rule in your favor as the district is well aware that a mediation agreement must be adhered to. Just filing for due process may be enough to have the district change their minds.
    Good luck.
    Sharon 🙂

  9. I have been dealing with our local District for the past 10 years. We have agreed upon FAPE being denied on two different occasions, and have settled on Private School placement. The District, astonishingly has not held IEP’s, more than one triennial, and continues to not follow the mediation agreement. It is unfortunate, but shocking to think that a District would make the same mistakes over and over after mediation and resolution has taken place. It seems that this goes beyond the statutes of limitations law, due to the fact that they did not comply to their mediated agreements from the beginning. Thanks for sharing the alert of the news from the Supreme Court Case this past Monday, June 22nd. It gives parents of children with disabilities continued hope.

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