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Parents Right to Seek Reimbursement for Private Special Education Placement When School District Improperly Fails to Find Student Eligible for Special Education Services

by Lana Traynor, Esq. Traynor Law Firm serving Oregon, Washington, and California

In Forest Grove S.D. v. T.A., the United States Supreme Court granted review to determine whether a public school district could be held liable for costs associated with a parent-chosen private placement even though the student had never received special education services from that district.

Background Facts: Forest Grove School District (District) declared that the Student was ineligible for special education services and refused to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for him even though the evidence indicated otherwise. As a result of the District's failure to provide the necessary and required services to their son, the Parents placed the student in an appropriate private placement. The Parents then sought reimbursement for the private placement from the District. However, the District refused to reimburse the Parents and argued that special education laws "categorically prohibit reimbursement for private-education costs if a child has not 'previously received special education and related services under the authority of a public agency.'"

Analysis: The United States Supreme Court evaluated the evidence and concluded that the District failed to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to the Student as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Court then analyzed (and rejected) the District's argument that a student must first receive special education services from a public entity (e.g., a district) before parents are entitled to reimbursement for private education costs. In part, the Court reasoned that "by immunizing a school district's refusal to find a child eligible for special-education services no matter how compelling the child's need, the School District's interpretation of [the applicable law] would produce a rule bordering on the irrational."

Key Lessons for Parents/Students: As parents or caregivers, we often feel "worn-down" and confused by the complex special education system. In Forest Grove v. T.A., the United States Supreme Court confirms what many of us have known (and fought for) in the special education system for years…A parent who makes reasonable requests and cooperates with the school district throughout the special education process can place the child in a private placement and seek reimbursement from the school district for those private services.

Parents can (and should) continue to do what we are supposed to do – advocate for our children. Sometimes, advocacy means that a parent must provide private services to a child with disabilities, then seek reimbursement from a public entity. After Forest Grove v. T.A., we now know that under special education laws, a school district may be held liable for parent-provided private services even if the school district has never provided special education services to the child. Some key lessons learned from Forest Grove v. T.A. include:

(a) Share medical diagnosis information with the school in writing;
(b) Keep district personnel informed regarding private evaluations and private services via writing;
(c) Cooperate in the special education referral process;
(d) Cooperate in the special education evaluation process (e.g., give informed consent for evaluation in a timely fashion and do not delay the district's requested evaluation);
(e) Collaborate with the district;
(f) Keep a detailed log of parent-provided interventions and private services to the student (e.g., amount of time spent on tutoring the student during evenings, weekends, and holidays);
(g) Keep a copy of all written correspondence and emails;
(h) Keep a journal of conversations and key interactions with district personnel, and;
(i) When all else fails, give the district written notice of intent to: (i) place the student in a private placement, and; (ii) seek reimbursement for that private placement from the district. The parent should provide the written notice at least ten business days before removal of the student from the public school.
This is not legal advice. Do not rely on anything in this document without first consulting an attorney.

Lana Traynor is a mother of three children with learning differences. Her law practice is dedicated to representing students, birth through college, with special needs, disability, and other education-related issues. Lana Traynor is licensed to practice law in Oregon, Washington and California and represents clients in all three states. She is admitted to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. She can be reached at or 503-223-4147.

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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