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Special Education Placement

How can parents obtain placement for their child at a school that is not on the state's "approved" list? The leading U.S. Supreme Court case on that subject is Florence County School District 4 v. Carter, 510 U.S. 7 (1993), where the Court held that parents who enroll their child at a non-approved private school may be entitled to reimbursement for tuition and related expenses if they can prove that:

  1. the child was deprived of a Free Appropriate Public Education ("FAPE") by their school district; and
  2. the program chosen by the parents was "appropriate."
The Court refused to deny reimbursement to parents for such a placement merely because the private school chosen by the parents "lack[ed] the stamp of approval of the same public school system that failed to meet the child's needs in the first place." [Florence County S.D. at 14.]

Since the Florence County S.D. decision, people working in special education litigation have wrestled with the meaning of the requirement that the program chosen by the parents be "appropriate."

  • Assuming that the school system has failed to provide an adequate educational program, what standards should be applied to a parent's unilateral choice of placement?
  • Does the program need to be a full-blown "special education" program with its staff fully certified as special education teachers?
  • Does it need to provide the same or a comparable curriculum to that offered in a public school program?
  • Does "appropriate" mean the same for a parent's unilateral choice of a program as it does when a court examines the quality and types of services offered in the public school program under an IEP?


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