Supreme Court Hears Case of Private School Tuition Reimbursement
October 1, 2007: The United States Supreme Court heard argument in the case of Board of Education of New York v. Tom F. This case involved the question of private school tuition reimbursement in circumstances where the public school had failed to provide a special needs student with a free and appropriate education (FAPE) and whether the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) requires that before reimbursement is even available, a student must first have been receiving special education in the public school – before being placed in the private school. The Second Circuit ruled in favor of the parents on the issue and the Board appealed to the Supreme Court on the issue. This case is but the latest in a string of special education cases the Supreme Court has recently heard.
The U.S. Department of Justice sided with the parents on the issue and argued with the parent’s attorney that despite the language of the statute, it makes no sense to suggest the law was meant to exclude any possibility of reimbursement for any student who had not previously received special ed services while in a public school setting.
Before reaching the Supremes, New York State found that the local school system had failed to offer the student a FAPE and found further that the parents were entitled to reimbursement for the private school tuition they had been forced to spend. As in other recent cases involving issues of the burden of proof, expert witness fees, and even the question of whether a parent can serve as the attorney in a case – special education cases all – we will be watching for this decision very carefully, knowing that whichever way the court decides the question, the holding will have far reaching consequences to the practice of education law throughout the country.