Reimagining Education

US Supreme Court IDEA Decision a Landmark Win for Special Needs Students

A recent United States Supreme Court decision is a groundbreaking win for parents in Missouri and across the country with Individual Education Plans. In the Court’s ruling in Forest Grove School District v T.A. the Court held that parents of students with disabilities had the right to reimbursements for private school tuition from public school districts, even when a child has never received special education services from a public school.

“Consistent with our decisions in [School Committee of] Burlington [v.Department of Education of Massachusetts] and [Florence County School District No. 4 v.] Carter,” Justice Stevens wrote, “we conclude that IDEA authorizes reimbursement for the cost of private special-education services when a school district fails to provide a [free, appropriate public education] and the private-school placement is appropriate, regardless of whether the child previously received special education or related services through the public school.”

The ramifications of this decision could be felt for years to come as parents now have a precedent at the highest court in the land forcing public schools to pay for a student to transfer to a private school when the parent alone felt the transfer was necessary. This case revolved around the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but could be a sign of what the future holds for education reform. If this case clearly stated that no longer do students with disabilities have to be trapped in schools that are failing to meet their educational needs, how long before the court sets the same precedent for ALL public school students?

Many of these families could be helped at no cost to the school districts if their state legislatures would pass legislation allowing for scholarship tax credit programs. A successful example of these programs can be found in Florida, andIndiana recently passed legislation creating a scholarship tax credit program. Sadly, the Missouri House of Representatives deafeated legislation creating a program targeted at special needs students during the 2008 session. The same bill was filed during the 2009 session, but was never voted on after a committee hearing.

Undoubtedly, the floodgates will open for families who, for years, have battled with their school district for their special needs child to receive a free, appropriate public education as prescribed by law. The challenge, and duty, now of everyone in the education reform movement is to make parents of special needs children aware of this Supreme Court decision. We can no longer allow for these children to be trapped in failing and inadequate school districts.

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