Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

High Court Debates Reimbursement for Special Education

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

High Court Debates Reimbursement for Special Education

Article excerpt

President Bill Clinton's administration urged the Supreme Court on Wednesday to make it easier for parents who put a child in private school for special help to get reimbursed by their public school system.

"The legal standard should be no more onerous and no more complicated" than needed to achieve the purpose of a federal law aimed at meeting the basic educational needs of such children, Justice Department lawyer Amy Wax told the court.

But Donald Ayer, an attorney for a school district in Florence, S.C., argued that parents are not free to pull out of the "cooperative effort" that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act envisions and later demand public funding.

Parents who believe their public school district is not offering the "free appropriate public education" the federal law requires "have the right to remove the child," Ayer said. But, he said, they must comply with all of the law's conditions before they qualify for any reimbursement.

At issue is whether Florence School District 4 must pay for the nearly $36,000 Shannon Carter's parents spent for her three years in private school.

The case, which could cost public school districts nationwide, has attracted widespread attention. The National School Boards Association, the National League of Cities and 17 states submitted friend-of-the-court briefs siding with Florence school officials' argument that no reimbursement is required.

Shannon, 23 now and studying at Florence-Darlington Technical College to become a physical therapist, was tested twice as a seventh-grader in 1982. School officials determined she was not learning disabled.

After Shannon performed poorly early in the ninth grade, her parents requested additional testing. The new tests led officials to conclude she had a comparatively severe learning disability - dyslexia and an attention deficit disorder.

Dissatisfied with the proposed program of special instruction officials mapped out for Shannon, her parents placed her in Trident Academy, a private school for the learning disabled in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

By the time she graduated in 1988, Shannon was reading at the 12th-grade level.

The Carters sued the school district and its officials in 1986. …

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