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News & Views - Dec, 1993 (#25) 

Orders reimbursement for Unilateral Private Placement
by: Lon Woodbury

(Digested from Education Week, Volume 13, Issue 11, November 17, 1993, pp 1, 16: "In Special-Ed. Case, Justices Back Parents" by Mark Walsh)

While a 9th grade student in a public school in Florence County School S.C., Shannon Carter was diagnosed with a learning disability which included dyslexia and attention-deficit disorder. Her parents, unhappy with the School's desire to place her in a "resource room" which included retarded and emotionally disturbed students, placed her for three years at Trident Academy in Mount Pleasant, S.C. They then sued for reimbursement of almost $36,000 in tuition and expenses. The Academy specialized in learning disabilities but did not attempt to meet all federal and state special-education guidelines. The family won in both federal district Court and the 4nd Circuit Appeals Court (Florence County School District 4 v. Carter - Case No. 91-1523). The Courts had ruled that the school system had failed to provide an appropriate education plan for Shannon Carter.

The Supreme Court accepted the appeal on the argument that the Academy was not approved for special-education placements, and also to resolve the apparent conflict with a Second Circuit Court's ruling in 1989 that a parental placement was not proper under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act unless the private school met state special-education standards.

The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the Second Circuit Court's approach. Writing for the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote that is seems "somewhat ironic" and "hardly seems consistent" with the goals of the I.D.E.A. "to forbid parents from educating their child at a school that provides an appropriate education simply because that school lacks the stamp of approval of the same public school system that failed to meet the child's needs in the first place."

Reactions to the decision range from claims that it gives parents of special-education children a blank check, to claims that it does not change standards parents must meet. (I would appreciate hearing the results of any research or experiences in this area. - Lon)

Copyright 1993, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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