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School District Must Reimburse Parents for Special Ed Evaluation

By Robyn Hagan Cain on November 30, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), "to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education" and that "the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected." In exchange for federal funding, the IDEA says that a state must provide special education tailored to each disabled child's needs "at public expense" and "at no cost to parents."

IDEA requires that state and local agencies establish and maintain procedures to ensure that children with disabilities and their parents are guaranteed procedural safeguards, including an opportunity for the parents of a child with a disability to obtain an independent educational evaluation (IEE) of the child.

In 1999, the Department of Education adopted 34 C.F.R. § 300.502(b)(1), stating that a parent "has the right to an independent educational evaluation at public expense if the parent disagrees with an evaluation obtained by the public agency."

Last week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the validity of that regulation.

In 2002, the Jefferson County Board of Education in Alabama initially evaluated A.C. and determined that he was eligible for special education services. In 2005, the Board re-evaluated A.C. to assess his current level of functioning in order to plan his educational program. Philip and Angie C. disagreed with the Board's assessments and obtained an IEE of A.C. from Mitchell's Place, a private facility. Notwithstanding the federal and Alabama regulations requiring reimbursement, the Board refused to reimburse the parents for the IEE.

The matter ended up in federal court, and a district court ruled that the parents were entitled to reimbursement.

The Board appealed the district court order, primarily arguing that 34 C.F.R. § 300.502 must be invalidated as exceeding the Congressional authority granted to the Secretary of Education because 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b) does not expressly state that parents are to be reimbursed for the cost of an IEE. Further, the Board claims that by requiring state and local agencies to "establish and maintain procedures ... to ensure ... procedural safeguards," Congress implicitly delegated to the states the right to decide whether to reimburse parents for the cost of an IEE.

The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the Board's arguments lacked merit.

While 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(1) did not explicitly provide for reimbursement, the appellate court noted that 20 U.S.C. § 1406(b)(2) expressly requires the Secretary of Education to preserve any IDEA regulation that existed as of July 20, 1983 and provided protection for children. One of the regulations in effect at that time expressly provided to parents "the right to an independent educational evaluation at public expense if the parent disagrees with an evaluation obtained by the public agency."

In other words, the Secretary of Education did not exceed its authority in promulgating 34 C.F.R. § 300.502, and the district court did not err in requiring the Board to reimburse Philip and Angie C. for the IEE.

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