In a recent case Sudbury Public Schools v. Massachusets Department of Education, the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts upheld an impartial hearing officer's decision to grant reimbursement for tuition at The Carroll School, a private school approved by Massachusetts as appropriate for the instruction of special education students. Three interesting point come out of this case:
1) General education for social studies and science = no good
On appeal, the school district maintained that it had created an appropriate IEP and had recommended an appropriate public school for the 2009-2010 school year as evidenced by the fact that the child was in special education classes for some subjects and in a program for students who have language disabilities. And therein lies the problem - the court found it problematic, and ultimately fatal, that only "some" of the child's classes were in a special education setting (social studies and science would have been in a gen ed setting). A neuropsychological report said that the child would become disnegaged from school and his academic skills would slip if he were not surrounded by students with similiar learning needs and the IHO and the court took this to mean that being in a gen ed classroom for social studies and science would impede his academic progress. Therefore, the offered placement was not appropriate.
2) Doesn't matter that parent was set on private school
What is interesting about this case is how the court discounted the fact that the mother was set on this private school from the start in order to grant reimbursement. The mother testified that the family moved to this school district with the intention of enrolling her son at Carroll; she didn't contact the school district until after he was enrolled in Carroll; she explicitly told the IEP team that she wasn't interested in public school services; and she didn't observe the district's recommended program. The court was well aware of all these points but overlooked them in favor of the parent's testimony that she would have accepted an IEP for public school placement if she had felt it was appropriate, and the fact that the mother otherwise cooperated by participating in meetings and sharing evaluations. The district court added that since the parents had not obstructed the IEP process, there was no reason to find that they had done anything to prevent reimbursement.
The court decided pendency in favor of the parents despite remarks by the IHO that could have been interpreted to limit the availability of "prospective relief." The court also explained that pendency applies even when the period of the challenged IEP has expired.
In short, this is a good decision for parents.