Tuesday, June 23, 2009

a VERY important SCOTUS decision-IDEA law


After a private specialist diagnosed respondent with learning disabili-ties, his parents unilaterally removed him from petitioner publicschool district (School District), enrolled him in a private academy,and requested an administrative hearing on his eligibility for special-education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U. S. C. §1400 et seq. The School District found re-spondent ineligible for such services and declined to offer him an in-dividualized education program (IEP). Concluding that the School District had failed to provide respondent a “free appropriate publiceducation” as required by IDEA, §1412(a)(1)(A), and that respon-dent’s private-school placement was appropriate, the hearing officerordered the School District to reimburse his parents for his private-school tuition. The District Court set aside the award, holding thatthe IDEA Amendments of 1997 (Amendments) categorically bar re-imbursement unless a child has “previously received special educa-tion or related services under the [school’s] authority.”§1412(a)(10)(C)(ii). Reversing, the Ninth Circuit concluded that theAmendments did not diminish the authority of courts to grant reim-bursement as “appropriate” relief pursuant to §1415(i)(2)(C)(iii). See School Comm. of Burlington v. Department of Ed. of Mass., 471 U. S. 359, 370.

Held: IDEA authorizes reimbursement for private special-education services when a public school fails to provide a FAPE and the private-school placement is appropriate, regardless of whether the child pre-viously received special-education services through the public school.Pp. 6–17.
(a) This Court held in Burlington and Florence County School Dist. Four v. Carter, 510 U. S. 7, that §1415(i)(2)(C)(iii) authorizes courts
to reimburse parents for the cost of private-school tuition when a school district fails to provide a child a FAPE and the private-schoolplacement is appropriate. That Burlington and Carter involved the deficiency of a proposed IEP does not distinguish this case, nor does the fact that the children in Burlington and Carter had previously re-ceived special-education services; the Court’s decision in those cases depended on the Act’s language and purpose rather than the particu-lar facts involved. Thus, the reasoning of Burlington and Carter ap-plies unless the 1997 Amendments require a different result. Pp. 6–
(b) The 1997 Amendments do not impose a categorical bar to reim-bursement. The Amendments made no change to the central purpose of IDEA or the text of §1415(i)(2)(C)(iii). Because Congress is pre-sumed to be aware of, and to adopt, a judicial interpretation of a statute when it reenacts that law without change, Lorillard v. Pons, 434 U. S. 575, 580, this Court will continue to read §1415(i)(2)(C)(iii)to authorize reimbursement absent a clear indication that Congressintended to repeal the provision or abrogate Burlington and Carter. The School District’s argument that §1412(a)(10)(C)(ii) limits reim-bursement to children who have previously received public special-education services is unpersuasive for several reasons: It is not sup-ported by IDEA’s text, as the 1997 Amendments do not expresslyprohibit reimbursement in this case and the School District offers noevidence that Congress intended to supersede Burlington and Carter; it is at odds with IDEA’s remedial purpose of “ensur[ing] that allchildren with disabilities have available to them a [FAPE] that em-phasizes special education . . . designed to meet their unique needs,” §1400(d)(1)(A); and it would produce a rule bordering on the irra-tional by providing a remedy when a school offers a child inadequatespecial-education services but leaving parents remediless when the school unreasonably denies access to such services altogether. Pp. 8–
(c) The School District’s argument that any conditions on accepting IDEA funds must be stated unambiguously is clearly satisfied here, as States have been on notice at least since Burlington that IDEA au-thorizes courts to order reimbursement. The School District’s claims that respondent’s reading will impose a heavy financial burden on public schools and encourage parents to enroll their children in pri-vate school without first trying to cooperate with public-school au-thorities are also unpersuasive in light of the restrictions on reim-bursement awards identified in Burlington and the fact that parentsunilaterally change their child’s placement at their own financial risk. See, e.g., Carter, 510 U. S., at 15. Pp. 15–16.
523 F. 3d 1078, affirmed.

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