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The Supreme Court has made it easier for parents of special education students to be reimbursed for the cost of private schooling for their children.


The court ruled 6-3 Monday in favor of a teenage boy from Oregon whose parents sought to force their local public school district to pay the $5,200 a month it cost to send their son to a private school.

Federal law calls for school districts to reimburse students or their families for education costs when public schools do not have services that address or fulfill the students' needs. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the nation's special education students are entitled to a "free and appropriate public education."

Schools have argued that parents of special education students should have given public special education programs a chance before seeking reimbursement for private school tuition. But advocacy groups and parents of some special education students contend that forcing them to try public schools first could force children, especially poor ones, to spend time in an undesirable situation before getting the help they need.

In the case before the Supreme Court, the family of a teenage Oregon boy diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder sued the school district, saying the school did not properly address the student's learning problems. The family is seeking reimbursement for the student's tuition, which cost $5,200-a-month. The family paid a total of $65,000 in private tuition.

In its appeal, the Forest Grove School District said students should be forced to at least give public special education programs a try before seeking reimbursement for private tuition.

Justice John Paul Stevens said in his majority opinion that the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires a school district to pay for private special ed services if the public school doesn't have appropriate services.

"We conclude that IDEA authorizes reimbursement for the cost of special education services when a school district fails to provide a FAPE and the private-school placement is appropriate, regardless of whether the child previously received special education or related services through the public school," Stevens said.


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