The National School Boards Association (NSBA), joined by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), today filed a “friend of the court” (amicus) brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of M.R. v. Ridley School District. At issue in the case is whether school districts must continue paying for a student’s private placement once a court finds the school district provided the child with a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Under the stay-put requirement in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school districts must pay for a disabled child’s current educational placement while legal proceedings continue to resolve a dispute between parents and schools.
The groups urge the Court to review the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit extending the stay-put obligation through completion of all appeals—a departure from previous court rulings that limited the stay-put obligation only until a trial court issued a decision.
The amici argue that the Third Circuit’s decision risks inflicting significant harm on school districts and the students they serve. By extending school districts’ obligation to pay for private school placements until all appeals are exhausted, the decision creates an incentive for parents to prolong litigation rather than to work collaboratively with school districts to resolve disputes without delay; the increased liability for private tuition and legal fees from needlessly prolonged litigation imposes an untenable burden on the already-strained budgets of local school districts and diverts resources away from providing educational services to all children. The brief contends that one legal dispute could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars expended on an unnecessary placement and legal fees and innumerable hours of professional educators’ time spent in legal proceedings rather than the classroom.
“Parents and educators should collaborate to develop appropriate education plans for student with disabilities and to resolve disagreements quickly,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA’s Executive Director. “Schools should not be forced to spend public funds intended to provide educational services to all children on an unnecessary placement for one child or on increased legal fees caused by excessive litigation.”
“IDEA requires school districts to provide a child with disabilities a free appropriate public education, not to fund the parents’ preferred private placement,” said NSBA Associate Executive Director and General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. “Once a district court determines that a school district has provided FAPE, its obligation to pay for the stay-put placement should end.”
According to Negrón, the Third Circuit ruling requires immediate Court resolution: “We risk violating the public trust when we prolong expensive private school placement at public expense. Granting review of this important case would serve the needs and interests of many children, not a select few.”