FOREST GROVE SCHOOL DISTRICT v. T.A.

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
08-305
Petitioner 
Forest Grove School District
Respondent 
T. A.
Advocates
(argued the cause for the petitioner)
(argued the cause for the respondent)
(Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondent)
Term:
Facts of the Case 

In 2003, T.A., a former student in the Forest Grove School District, sought to be evaluated for suspected learning disabilities. In 2004, the Office of Administrative Hearings for the State of Oregon determined that T.A. was disabled and eligible for special education under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. As T.A. was no longer enrolled in the Forest Grove School District, but attending private school, the hearing officer ordered the school district to reimburse T.A. for the private school tuition ($5,200 per month), determining it had failed to offer him a free and appropriate public education.

The school district appealed the order in an Oregon federal district court arguing that reimbursement was not appropriate because T.A. unilaterally withdrew from school, never received special education services while enrolled, and withdrew for reasons unrelated to his learning disability. The district court invalidated the order. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court and upheld the order. It reasoned that IDEA provided the courts broad discretion in order to achieve "equitable relief" for disabled students, including reimbursement for private school tuition.

Question 

Under IDEA, can a federal district court order a school district to reimburse its former student for his tuition at a private school when the student unilaterally withdrew from school, never received special education services while enrolled, and withdrew for reasons unrelated to his learning disability?

Conclusion 
Decision: 6 votes for T.A., 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Yes. The Supreme Court held that IDEA authorizes reimbursement for private special-education services when a public school fails to provide free appropriate public education (FAPE) and the private school placement is appropriate, regardless of whether the child previously received special education services through the public school. With Justice John Paul Stevens writing for the majority and joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and Samuel A. Alito, the Court relied on its decisions in Burlington v. Deptartment of Ed. of Mass. and Florence County School Dist. 4 v. Carter to reach its conclusion. There, the Court had found that courts had the power to reimburse parents for private school tuition when a school district fails to provide FAPE and a private school placement is appropriate.

Justice David H. Souter dissented and was joined by Justices Antonin G. Scalia and Clarence Thomas. He argued that the 1997 Congressional amendments to IDEA limited reimbursement for private school tuition when the public school had provided FAPE and the student's withdrawal was unilateral, and then criticized the majority for not recognizing such limitations.

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FOREST GROVE SCHOOL DISTRICT v. T.A.. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 04 April 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2008/2008_08_305>.
FOREST GROVE SCHOOL DISTRICT v. T.A., The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2008/2008_08_305 (last visited April 4, 2014).
"FOREST GROVE SCHOOL DISTRICT v. T.A.," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed April 4, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2008/2008_08_305.