High Court Refuses Tenn. Special-Ed. Reimbursement Case

By Mark Walsh — October 28, 1992 2 min read

WASHINGTON--The U.S. Supreme Court last week declined to review a special-education case in which a Tennessee school district was ordered to reimburse the parents of an emotionally disturbed child for educational expenses associated with his psychiatric treatment in a hospital.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit had found that the Knox County school district had failed to properly evaluate the student’s behaviorial troubles before threatening to expel him in 1989.

The student had a long history of misbehavior, but the district took into account only his three months of enrollment in Knox County at the age of 13, the appeals court said.

The court found the boy to be “severely emotionally disturbed’’ and thus eligible for special services under what is now the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

After the school district decided against providing special-education services, the boy’s parents placed him in a private hospital’s psychiatric program that included three hours a day of education.

The appeals court ruled that under the I.D.E.A., the school district must reimburse the parents for the educational expenses related to the hospital stay.

The district appealed the Sixth Circuit Court’s decision to the Supreme Court in Knox County School System v. Babb (Case No. 92-455), arguing that the decision conflicted with other appeals-court rulings that have recognized a distinction between private residential placements that were educationally necessary and those that were done primarily for medical or other reasons.

The parents, however, argued that there was no real conflict with other circuit court rulings and that their case involved a routine application of a 1985 Supreme Court decision that said school districts must reimburse parents who reject special-education plans for their children and place them in private institutions if the courts ultimately determine that the proposed public school plan was inappropriate.

Without comment, the High Court denied the district’s petition for review on Oct. 19.

The High Court still has before it a petition for review from a South Carolina school district in a similar case.

In Florence County School District v. Carter (No. 91-1523), the district has asked the Court to rule whether it must reimburse parents who placed their disabled child in an unaccredited private special-education school.

The Court has asked the U.S. Justice Department to comment on the case before it decides whether to grant review.

Other Action

In separate actions last week, the High Court:

  • Declined to review the procedures used by the teachers’ union in Los Angeles for collecting agency fees from nonunion teachers.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the procedures of United Teachers of Los Angeles, in which nonunion employees must take affirmative steps to avoid paying dues that cover union activities not related to collective bargaining. The appeal was Mitchell v. United Teachers-Los Angeles (No. 92-169).

  • Let stand a ruling by the Kentucky Supreme Court upholding a state law that provides grandparents with visitation rights to their grandchildren. The appeal was King v. King (No. 92-381).

A version of this article appeared in the October 28, 1992 edition of Education Week as High Court Refuses Tenn. Special-Ed. Reimbursement Case