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Thursday, July 31, 2014

M.R. v. Ridley School District: Private Placement and FAPE

A release from the National School Boards Association:
The National School Boards Association (NSBA), joined by thePennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), today filed a “friend of the court” (amicus) brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of M.R. v. Ridley School District. At issue in the case is whether school districts must continue paying for a student’s private placement once a court finds the school district provided the child with a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Under the stay-put requirement in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school districts must pay for a disabled child’s current educational placement while legal proceedings continue to resolve a dispute between parents and schools.
The groups urge the Court to review the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit extending the stay-put obligation through completion of all appeals—a departure from previous court rulings that limited the stay-put obligation only until a trial court issued a decision.
The amici argue that the Third Circuit’s decision risks inflicting significant harm on school districts and the students they serve. By extending school districts’ obligation to pay for private school placements until all appeals are exhausted, the decision creates an incentive for parents to prolong litigation rather than to work collaboratively with school districts to resolve disputes without delay; the increased liability for private tuition and legal fees from needlessly prolonged litigation imposes an untenable burden on the already-strained budgets of local school districts and diverts resources away from providing educational services to all children. The brief contends that one legal dispute could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars expended on an unnecessary placement and legal fees and innumerable hours of professional educators’ time spent in legal proceedings rather than the classroom.
From Education Week:
The Ridley school system argued that once the district court decided that Ridley had provided a free and appropriate public education, it was no longer responsible for any private school costs. It also said the parents should have tried to get the money earlier in the legal proceeding. But the February ruling from the appeals court found otherwise, saying that the district owed the parents close to $58,000 in tuition. From the ruling:
We are not insensitive to the financial burden our decision will impose on school districts ... or the seeming incongruity of the ultimately prevailing party having to pay for a now-rejected placement. Despite two judicial determinations that Ridley did not deny E.R. a FAPE, the school district will be assessed the cost of her private school education for a substantial period of time. It is impossible, however, to protect a child's educational status quo without sometimes taxing school districts for private education costs that ultimately will be deemed unnecessary by a court. We see this not as "an absurd result," ... but as an unavoidable consequence of the balance Congress struck to ensure stability for a vulnerable group of children.
As an aside, Pennsylvania, along with five other jurisdictions (California, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York and Puerto Rico), accounted for 80 percent of the due process complaints filed between 2006-07 and 2011-12, and 90 percent of the complaints that were adjudicated.