Families & the Community

Justices Seek U.S. Views on Expert Fees Under IDEA

By Andrew Trotter — October 18, 2005 4 min read

The U.S. Supreme Court asked the Bush administration last week for its views on whether parents can be reimbursed under the main federal special education law for the fees of experts who take part in a challenge to a student’s individualized education program.

The request comes amid a relative flurry of activity at the high court involving cases under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The justices declined last week to review two other cases involving the statute, and earlier this month they heard arguments in a case that will determine whether parents or school districts bear the burden of proof in legal challenges under the IDEA.(“Court Weighs Burden of Proof in IDEA Cases,” Oct. 12, 2005.)

See Also

In the case about fees under the IDEA, the court on Oct. 11 asked the U.S. solicitor general for guidance on whether the law authorizes a court to award fees for experts employed by the parents of a child with a disability who are the victors in a dispute with a school district.

Pearl and Theodore Murphy, the parents of a child with unspecified disabilities, had a long-running dispute with the 10,000-student Arlington, N.Y., district over the placement of their son, Joseph. The parents employed an educational consultant to represent them in special education proceedings. They eventually prevailed in a federal district court and in a March ruling by a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City.

Although the school district resisted, when the Murphys submitted a bill to the court for $29,350 in expert fees for the consultant’s services, the district court concluded that the parents were entitled to recover part of that sum, or $8,650.

The district’s petition to hear Arlington Central School District Board of Education v. Murphy (No. 05-18) argues that while the IDEA authorizes parents who prevail in legal proceedings to recover lawyers’ fees, it does not permit the recovery of fees for experts, whether they are witnesses or, as in this case, consultants to the parents.

The Supreme Court’s request for the solicitor general’s views on the issue strengthens the odds that the court will grant a full review of the case. The solicitor general’s office typically takes several months to file a brief in response to such a request.

Federalism Case

Meanwhile, the justices on Oct. 11 declined to hear an appeal by the state of Louisiana from a decision that allowed the state to be sued over alleged violations of federal laws protecting students with disabilities, including the IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The case had raised an important federalism question by examining whether the state had given up its 11th Amendment immunity from lawsuits when it agreed to accept federal money under the disability laws. The case began as a fairly routine special education dispute involving Travis Pace, a high school student with multiple mental and physical disabilities, who sued the 3,000-student Bogalusa, La., school district and the state in 1999.

In March, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, ruled 8-6 that Mr. Pace’s specific claims were invalid, but it upheld his right to sue the state under the laws. The 5th Circuit court, which had raised the 11th Amendment immunity issue on its own, ruled that Louisiana had knowingly waived its right to immunity from private lawsuits when it accepted federal funds under the IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The U.S. Department of Justice had backed the Pace family’s contention, both in the appeals court and in a Supreme Court brief, that the state had in fact given up its immunity.

The high court declined without comment to hear the state’s appeal in Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education v. Pace (No. 04-1655).

Also last week, the justices turned away the Hamilton County, Tenn., school district’s appeal of a lower-court ruling in favor of the parents of Zachary Deal, an elementary school student with autism.

The Deals believed that an intensive teaching approach called applied behavioral analysis was essential to their son’s education. In 1998, they presented the district an IEP that emphasized that method. The 38,000-student Hamilton County district, however, developed an IEP involving other methods, including physical and speech therapy. School officials regarded the Deals’ program as unnecessarily expensive.

An administrative-law judge sided with the Deals, but a federal district court ruled in favor of the school district. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, rejected the school district’s premise that an IEP is sufficient if it confers something more than a minimal educational benefit. The appeals court held that “an IEP [must] confer a meaningful educational benefit,” while leaving the district court to figure out what such a program should be.

The Supreme Court declined without comment to hear the school district’s appeal in Hamilton County Department of Education v. Deal (Case No. 05-55).

A version of this article appeared in the October 19, 2005 edition of Education Week as Justices Seek U.S. Views on Expert Fees Under IDEA

Events

Student Well-Being Webinar Boosting Teacher and Student Motivation During the Pandemic: What It Takes
Join Alyson Klein and her expert guests for practical tips and discussion on how to keep students and teachers motivated as the pandemic drags on.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Holistic Approach to Social-Emotional Learning
Register to learn about the components and benefits of holistically implemented SEL.
Content provided by Committee for Children
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Principals Can Support Student Well-Being During COVID
Join this webinar for tips on how to support and prioritize student health and well-being during COVID.
Content provided by Unruly Studios

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Washington Data Processing Representative - (WAVA)
Tacoma, Washington, United States
K12 Inc.
Software Engineer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
Proposal Writer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
CCLC Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools

Read Next

Families & the Community Audio A Storm, Power Outages, and a Pandemic: Texas Educators and Families Describe a School Year Upended
On top of the deadly pandemic, millions of people in Texas lost heat and water for days after a winter storm. Hear how families and educators coped.
2 min read
Jack Fitzgerald, 14, an 8th grader at Hogg Middle School in Houston, Texas, plays Rocket League at home this week when school was cancelled because of icy weather and widespread power outages. Jack's family had to stay with friends briefly when their home lost power and indoor temperatures plunged.
Jack Fitzgerald, 14, an 8th grader at Hogg Middle School in Houston, Texas, plays Rocket League at home this week when school was cancelled because of icy weather and widespread power outages. Jack's family had to stay with friends briefly when their home lost power and indoor temperatures plunged.
Courtesy of Ginny Goldman
Families & the Community Leader To Learn From Relying on Community Values: How One School Leader Advocates for Vulnerable Families
Carissa Purnell’s work at the Family Resource Centers in Salinas, Calif., is a lifeline for families, many of them migrant farm workers.
7 min read
Carissa Purnell, director of the Family Resource Centers for the Alisal Union School District in Salinas, Calif.
Carissa Purnell, director of the Family Resource Centers for Alisal Union School District in Salinas, Calif., provides essential services and critical information to vulnerable families.
Nic Coury for Education Week
Families & the Community Leader To Learn From Driving Academic Improvement by Empowering Parents
Central to turning around public education in Detroit is reengaging the parents who had been largely cut out of the district.
10 min read
Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of Detroit Public Schools, and Sharlonda Buckman, assistant superintendent of family and community engagement, have made parental engagement a key part of their turnaround strategy.
Nikolai Vitti and Sharlonda Buckman of Detroit Public Schools in Detroit, Mich.
Brittany Greeson for Education Week
Families & the Community Catholic Schools in the U.S. Hit by Unprecedented Enrollment Drop
Roman Catholic schools in the United States have seen the largest single-year decline in at least five decades, officials noted.
3 min read
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom on Aug. 6, 2020 after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York. On Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, Catholic education officials reported that enrollment in Roman Catholic schools in the United States dropped 6.4% from the previous academic year amid the pandemic and economic stresses — the largest single-year decline in at least five decades.
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom on Aug. 6, 2020 after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York. On Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, Catholic education officials reported that enrollment in Roman Catholic schools in the United States dropped 6.4% from the previous academic year amid the pandemic and economic stresses — the largest single-year decline in at least five decades.
Jessie Wardarski/AP