The National School Boards Association (NSBA) and five state school boards associations are asking the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court decision requiring a Colorado school district to pay for a student’s residential psychiatric treatment as part of its responsibilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In a joint amicus brief filed this week, NSBA and the state associations say that IDEA was never intended to cover medical and mental health expenses, and that requiring school districts to do so would deplete the limited funds for public schools.
While school districts “are dedicated to educating children with disabilities,” the brief says. “They are not designed or funded to function as medical providers.”
The case involved Elizabeth, a student Jefferson County School District R-1(JCSDR-1), who suffered from a posttraumatic stress disorder and a number of other psychiatric and emotional disorders. As a result of mediated settlement with her parents when Elizabeth was in eighth grade, the district agreed to pay half her private school tuition. However, a few years later, when her condition worsened, Elizabeth’s parents unilaterally hospitalized her in an out-of-state treatment center and sought reimbursement from the district. A federal district court in Colorado said that IDEA entitled the parents to that reimbursement. The case is expected to be heard by the appeals court sometime next year.
“In these tough economic times, school districts are being forced to drastically cut their budgets,” said NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant. “While IDEA ensures that all children with disabilities receive a quality education, it was never intended to shift the medical costs of treating students’ disabilities to public school districts that are already struggling with budget shortfalls.”
NSBA is joined in the appeal by state school boards associations in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Utah.