The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled that a disabled student unilaterally placed in a private school is not entitled to special education services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act if he remains in the private school.
The National School Boards Association (NSBA), joined by its Maryland and Virginia state associations, filed an amicus brief in the case, D.L. v. Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, asking the court not to expand the law, commonly known as Section 504, to require public schools to fund the education of students in private schools beyond the parameters of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the nation’s main special education law. The January 16 ruling will impact public schools in the Fourth Circuit, which includes Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
“The court recognized that Section 504 does not obligate school districts to pay for special education and related services for students enrolled unilaterally in private schools by their parents,” said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. “This decision supports Congress’ intent that federal funds for special education and related services be reserved primarily for students enrolled in public schools.”
The case centered on a student with ADHD whose parents requested an evaluation for special education services from the Baltimore City school district. The school officials determined the student would be eligible for Section 504 services based on his disabilities but only if he attended a public school.
The three-judge panel also upheld the school district’s requirement that private school students must enroll in a public school to obtain Section 504 services. The decision stated that the district’s rule “does not violate the Free Exercise Clause merely because it causes economic disadvantage on individuals who choose to practice their religion in a specific manner,” according to NSBA’s Legal Clips.
For more details on the case, read the article in Legal Clips.