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No IDEA Reimbursement for Autistic Child's Parents in School Dispute

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

The Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA) provides rights and remedies for children who have various educational disabilities, which can include reimbursement from the state if the child has to pay to attend a non-public school. N.W., the subject of this case out of the Sixth Circuit, was born with autism and diagnosed with apraxia, an inability to say what he wants to say.

N.W. was removed from public school in Boone County, Kentucky, and placed at St. Rita's School for the Deaf in Cincinnati. N.W.'s parents weren't satisfied with St. Rita's and placed him at ABS, another private school in Cincinnati. N.W.'s parents asked for reimbursement from the Boone County School District, but after more than a year of mediation, neither side could agree on a plan for N.W. His parents alleged that the District failed to provide him with a "free, appropriate public education" (FAPE).

IDEA Won't Reimburse for Unilateral Moves

IDEA requires a local school district to reimburse parents if the district failed to provide a FAPE. N.W.'s placement at St. Rita's was the result of an individualized education plan (IEP) and the agreement of both the District and N.W.'s parents. This placement isn't in dispute.

N.W.'s parents, however, unilaterally removed N.W. from St. Rita's and placed him in ABS. This, the court said, was fatal to the claim. IDEA "does not require a local educational agency to pay for the cost of education, including special education and related services, of a child with a disability at a private school or facility if that agency made [a FAPE] available to the child and the parents elected to place the child in such private school or facility."

No Reimbursement Here

The District never had a chance to reevaluate the St. Rita's placement, so it couldn't be said that the District didn't offer a FAPE; clearly it had with the placement at St. Rita's. N.W.'s parents never proved that the District wouldn't offer a FAPE and they never disputed that they unilaterally enrolled N.W. at ABS. On these facts alone, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court's decision to order a reimbursement.

Even if the placement isn't what parents want, IDEA doesn't allow reimbursement unless the local school district has had a chance to weigh in on the placement. By unilaterally moving a child to a new placement, parents run the risk of forfeiting reimbursement, as the question of whether the school district has failed to provide a FAPE is up in the air.

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