Special-Education Activists Hail Supreme Court Ruling in Forest Grove School District v. T.A.

June 23, 2009

Website Link  http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/2009/06/23/2009-06-23_specialed_activists_hail_supreme_ruling.html

By Michael Saul, Daily News Political Correspondent

"This decision is a good thing," said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York. "It preserves the right to a free, appropriate public education for kids with disabilities, whether or not their school district is able to offer them an appropriate program."

The court ruled 6-3 that parents who send their special-needs child to private school cannot categorically be barred from taxpayer-funded reimbursements because they didn't first send their child to a public program.

Michael Best, general counsel to the city's Education Department, said the ruling will siphon more precious dollars out of the school system.

"We're disappointed by the ruling," Best said. "We believe it's unfortunate that the Court failed to recognize the significant drain on public school resources caused by private-school tuition reimbursement cases."

In 2007-08 in New York City, for example, there were 4,368 cases in which parents placed their child in a private school and sought public funding, forcing the department to pay out more than $88.9 million.

In more than half of those cases, the students had not previously received special-education services from the city - requiring a case-by-case review.

Regina Skyer, a lawyer whose firm handles many of these cases, said it's a "wonderful victory" for parents because they shouldn't be forced to place their kids in public-school programs that are unsuitable.

"I'm sure school districts are going to be distraught by this because it's going to cost more money," Skyer said. "Let them do better jobs - there has to be some accountability."