The National School Boards Association (NSBA) urges the U.S. Supreme Court to make it clear that school districts are not required to pay for a student’s mental health services in a residential care facility if those services are not needed primarily for educational purposes.
In an amicus brief, NSBA and the Colorado Association of School Boards are asking the High Court to review Jefferson County School District R-1 v. Elizabeth E., a case from the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, and clarify the limits of the tuition reimbursement provision of the nation’s main special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
“School districts are dedicated to educating children with disabilities, but federal law should recognize that they are not designed or funded to function as medical care providers,” said NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel. “Districts should not be required to pay for expensive health services that are needed primarily for medical treatment of mental health issues, not educational needs, because those would be beyond the scope and intent of IDEA.”
The case involves Elizabeth E., a student in Jefferson County, Colo., who was diagnosed with several mental health conditions. Until the eighth grade, she attended a private school, for which the Jefferson County Public Schools agreed to pay half the tuition. When Elizabeth’s behavioral disabilities began escalating, her parents unilaterally placed her in a residential treatment center out of state and sought reimbursement from the school district.
The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the parents were entitled to reimbursement under IDEA. The appeals court reached its decision by creating an entirely new standard that added more turmoil to an area of law in which other courts have already devised several conflicting standards, leaving no clear guidance for school districts.
“We urge the High Court to reverse the Tenth Circuit’s ruling which would require public schools to bear mental health care costs under the IDEA in a manner unintended by Congress,” said Francisco M. Negrón, Jr., NSBA’s General Counsel. “The high costs associated with such an interpretation of the IDEA could ultimately undermine the ability of public schools to provide educational services for all children.”
Learn more about the case in NSBA’s Legal Clips.