Does a student who attends private school have the right to receive special education or related services from his public school? That’s what parents of a Baltimore County, Md., student are arguing in a case before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But in an amicus brief to the court, NSBA argues that Section 504, the federal non-discrimination statute cited by the plaintiffs, does not permit parents who opt out of the public schools from receiving special education services or similar accommodations.
“For those students whose parents elect to enroll them in public school, Section 504 establishes as collaborative process whereby a team of school professionals can develop an integrated plan for service each student with disabilities,” says the brief, filed by NSBA, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education and the Virginia School Boards Association.
“Following the Parents’ position would turn such a plan into a disjointed grab-bag of services from which parents, and/or private schools could select on an ad hoc basis. This would be to the detriment of the student, and certainly was not envisioned by Congress when it enacted Section 504.”
In the case, D.L. v. Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, the court will review whether a public school system must provide educational services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to a resident student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) whose parents have unilaterally enrolled him in a private school.
“School districts, in these tough economic times, are being forced to drastically cut their budgets,” said NSBA’s Executive Director Anne L. Bryant. “The federal funds for education programs and services for students with disabilities provided through IDEA pay for only a small portion of the true cost of educating special needs students and should be reserved primarily for public school students.”
This case involves a student with ADHD whose parents have placed him in a private school. When the parents requested that their son be evaluated to determine his eligibility for special education services, the Baltimore City Public Schools found that he was not eligible under the IDEA but was qualified under Section 504. A Section 504 plan was not developed because the student remained enrolled in a private school.
The parents filed a complaint, and a hearing officer found that the school system was not obligated under Section 504 to provide special education services to the student because his parents had unilaterally placed him in a private school. This ruling was affirmed by the U.S. District Court for Maryland, but the parents have now appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
“Congress did not intend through Section 504 for school districts to pay for students enrolled unilaterally in private schools by their parents,” said NSBA’s General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. “The Fourth Circuit should not expand 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).”