Court Rules School Must Reimburse Parents for Tuition

gavelThis is a unique case! A court has ruled that a public school district must reimburse parents whose child is now in a residential facility. The facility is not located in the same state as the school district. The court ruled that the school is still required to pay for the cost of enrollment.

Public schools are required to properly provide for students who have special needs. This is a federal law. If the school is unable, or unwilling, to do so, the parent has the option to remove her child from the public school and place the child into a school that can provide for the child’s needs. The new school can be public or private. If the new school requires a tuition payment, the original public school must cover the cost.

There have been many lawsuits filed in regards to these requirements. This particular court case has some very unique circumstances.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, Colorado, has made a 3-0 ruling in favor of the parents of a daughter who has been described as having “severe emotional and mental-health needs”. Courts of Appeals have a panel of three judges on them, and each judge can cast one vote. The majority decision is what the ruling will be.

This story starts when the daughter was placed in a public school in the Jefferson County School District in Colorado. The parents and the school staff had many disagreements over the daughter’s educational plan. The parents felt that the school wasn’t meeting their daughter’s needs. So, they removed her and enrolled her at Innercept. It is a residential facility that is located in Idaho.

Innercept charges $9,800 per month for enrollment. The parents felt that the school should pay for the tuition because of regulations within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The school district disagreed. The case was about whether or not a school district can be liable for reimbursement when a child’s educational and mental-health needs are closely intertwined and a residential placement is addressing both needs.

The panel of judges decided the issue could be resolved with a “straightforward application” of IDEA. The judges ruled the school district must reimburse the parents for the cost of tuition at the residential facility because it is an accredited educational facility and it meets the child’s needs. The mental-health care she received was also reimbursable. The court also concluded:

…(the school district’s) “repeated statements that it had no obligation to [the student] under the IDEA because she was not physically present in Colorado” did not square with the IDEA, “which makes no allowance for such a condition”.

Image by Brian Turner on Flickr