Satisfying federal requirements that public schools provide students with disabilities with free and appropriate education
Federal law requires public schools to provide students with disabilities a free and appropriate education. If a school cannot meet the educational needs of a disabled student, the student’s parents can place the child in private school and seek reimbursement of tuition and related expenses.
Parents of an autistic child, believing that the child’s educational progress at the Douglas County [Colorado] School District [District], was not meeting his needs, withdrew the student from the District and placed him with another facility, Firefly Autism House, a private school that specializes in educating autistic children. The parents then asked the District to reimburse them for tuition and related expenses in accordance with federal law.
The District denied their request and a hearing was held before an administrative law judge [ALJ]. The ALJ found that the parents were aware of their child’s progress and fully participated in his education and upheld the District’s decision denying reimbursement.
A federal district court subsequently sustained the administrative ruling, which decision was affirmed the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The circuit court explained that the record showed that the administrative law judge found that the student received some educational benefit while in the District’s care and that such a finding was “enough to satisfy the District’s obligation to provide a free appropriate public education” under federal law. In the words of the circuit court, “the District did not violate the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. (IDEA), and is not required to reimburse the cost of the student’s private-school education.” Citing Florence Cty., 510 U.S. at 15, the circuit court noted that “Parents who take unilateral action, however, ‘do so at their own financial risk.’”
The decision is posted on the Internet at: