Court Reaffirms Decision in Special Education Tuition Reimbursement Case

Recently, in I.G. v. City of Linden Board of Education, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (the “District Court”) affirmed the decision of an Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) that parents of a student with a disability who unilaterally placed their child in a private school were not entitled to tuition reimbursement under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (the “IDEA”). While your school may not be in New Jersey, because the District Court’s decision interprets the IDEA, which is a federal statute and is generally applicable to all States, the decision may be helpful to your school in navigating certain special education issues.

Under the IDEA, the amount of tuition reimbursement a parent pays a private school where a student has been unilaterally placed can be reduced or denied if:

  • The parents did not inform the school at the most recent IEP meeting that they were rejecting the IEP or of their intention to enroll the child in an out of district placement;
  • The parents failed to provide written notice to the school at least ten (10) business days prior to removal of their intent to unilaterally remove the student and seek reimbursement;
  • The school proposed a reevaluation prior to the removal and the parents did not make the student available to be reevaluated;
  • A judicial body finds the parental actions unreasonable.

In I.G. v. City of Linden Board of Education, the Administrative Law Judge denied the parents’ request for tuition reimbursement for failing to act reasonably. The facts of the case state that an IEP meeting was convened on August 14, 2019 and at that meeting the parents did not reject the proposed IEP. Two days after the IEP meeting, the parents’ attorney told the school that the parents rejected the proposed IEP without stating why and that they were placing the student at a private school of their choice if the school refused to do so; however, the parents had already placed the student at the private school.

In affirming the decision of the ALJ and in ruling in favor of the school, the District Court concurred and acknowledged that the parents failed to act collaboratively with the school during the IEP process in violation of the IDEA. In doing so the Court stated, “. . .[t]he record here reflects that [the parents] failed to participate in a collaborative process with [the school]. . .[the parents] have disregarded their obligation to cooperate and assist in the formulation of an IEP. . .the IDEA was not meant to fund a private placement ‘when parents have not first given the public school a good faith opportunity to meet its obligations.’”

I.G. v. City of Linden Board of Education serves as a reminder that like public schools, parents too have certain obligations and responsibilities under the IDEA and that they generally cannot unilaterally place a student in a private placement without first meeting certain legal requirements.

For more information about this case or the obligations and responsibilities under the IDEA, please contact Chris Barrett or your Barton Gilman education lawyer.

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