Reimbursement for Private Placement: Court Rules against Katie C.

***February 04 update***

On August 26, 2003, the Disabilities Rights Center, the New Hampshire Psychiatric Society, the Asperger’s Association of New England, and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, New Hampshire filed an Amicus (Friend of the Court) brief in the case of Greenland School District v. Katie C. DRC Attorneys Wendy Paget and Ron Lospennato represented these four agencies in this matter.

Katie, currently age 13, has Asperger’s Syndrome and ADD/ADHD, and had difficulties in school beginning in first grade. In spite of significant academic and emotional problems in school, the school district failed to identify her as a student with an educational disability. In the 5th grade, when her problems still were not being addressed at school, Katie’s parents placed her in private schools, first at one that did not meet all of her needs, and then at the Learning Skills Academy (LSA), where she began doing very well and received special education which did meet her academic and social/emotional needs.

At the same time as Katie went to LSA, her parents asked the school district to evaluate her for special education. The school district’s psychologist evaluated her and found her to have a number of disabilities that affected her socially and academically, yet the school district found her to be ineligible for special education, claiming that her academics were not affected by her disabilities.

After the parents obtained an independent evaluation that determined Katie to have Asperger’s Syndrome, the school found Katie eligible and offered an IEP and placement. The parents disagreed and requested a due process hearing, because the school district’s plan called for Katie to transition back to the public school where she had done so poorly.

The hearing officer ruled in the parents’ favor, and found that the school violated its obligations to provide Katie with special education. The hearing officer also ruled that the IEP and placement proposed by the school district were not appropriate, that the unilateral placement was appropriate, and ordered the school district to continue her placement at LSA and reimburse the parents for tuition and related expenses.

The school district appealed to the US District Court, which reversed the decision to reimburse the parents and determined that as a result of the unilateral placement, she was not entitled to a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) during the time of the placement.

The District Court decision is currently being appealed by the parents to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

The issues on appeal are as follows:

The Disabilities Rights Center filed the Amicus brief on behalf of itself and the other three agencies because of its interest in protecting and advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities in New Hampshire, including children. These agencies, as stated in their brief, “…are committed to the paramount importance of provision of specially designed instruction and related services to ensure that children with disabilities are able to fully benefit from their education. The failure of school districts to timely identify children with disabilities, especially children with psychiatric impairments, and the failure of school districts to provide a free appropriate education to those children who have been identified have led to untold amounts of educational neglect for many children. Given the history of exclusion of children with disabilities from school and provision of inadequate services to those children with disabilities in school,…school districts must be instructed to timely identify and appropriately serve children with psychiatric impairments.”

February 04 update: The First Circuit Court of Appeals decided in February that Katie was not entitled to a private placement unless she had first enrolled in the public school, and that Katie's parents were not entitled to tuition reimbursement. See article in Concord Monitor.

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updated September 8, 2015