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The District Court Says a School District Must Pay for the Private Schooling of a Special Needs Child in Colorado After US Supreme Court Ruling.


In Endrew f. v. Douglas County School District, No. 12-cv-2620, (Dist. Ct. Colo. 2018) the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to hear the case. On March 22, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the legal standard used by the Tenth Circuit to assess whether a school district has provided a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) – whether the student’s individualized education program is calculated to confer an educational benefit that is merely more than de minimis – is not sufficient under the substantive obligation set forth in the IDEA (the federal law governing special education). The Supreme Court said that a FAPE is an education reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances. The Court ruled this standard is more demanding than the de minimis test applied by the Tenth Circuit. As a result, the Supreme Court vacated the ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings.

IDEA provides for the reimbursement from a school district when parents decide to enroll their child in a private school, without the consent of the school district, under certain circumstances. Parents are entitled to reimbursement if the school district violated the IDEA and the education provided by the private school is reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits. The court may require the agency to reimburse the parents for the cost of that enrollment if it finds that the agency had not made FAPE free appropriate public education available to the child. In this case, issue is whether Petitioner and his parents have met their burden to prove that the District violated the IDEA by failing to provide Petitioner with a FAPE.

Once the Supreme Court elevated the previous standard of a de minimis approach to special education to a higher standard of markedly more demanding, Douglas County’s efforts to provide Endrew with a special education curriculum had been insufficient. The judge reversed the ruling and said the district is on the hook for the student’s private tuition.

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