Helping You Become All You are Capable of Becoming
Court Cases and Decisions
15. Court Cases and Decisions Related to Exceptional Education Tools for Getting Parents Involved in the Exceptional Education Process By James J. Messina, Ph.D. & Constance M. Messina, Ph.D.
Hendrick Hudson School District v. Rowley Although the Supreme Court did not agree with lower courts that Amy Rowley, a deaf elementary school student, needs a sign-language interpreter, it did affirm the right of all handicapped children to receive a meaningful education, including specialized instruction and related services individually designed to provide the child educational benefit. Each of the major elements of PL 94142 was upheld by the Supreme Court. The opinion states that: (1) Handicapped children must be educated by the public schools without charge. (2) Handicapped children must be provided meaningful access to services. (3) Those services must be designed, through the individual education plan (IEP) process, to benefit the specific child. (4) Related services and supportive services needed to enable the child to benefit from his education must be provided. (5) Parents must be actively involved in the planning for their child's education. (6) Due process procedures and federal court review are available to parents who wish to challenge either the procedure used in developing their child's program or the capacity of the program to provide a meaningful education for their child. The Court particularly endorsed an active parental role in designing the child's education plan.
Irving County School District v. Tatro (Tatro v. State of Texas in the lower courts) The Supreme Court in this case upheld the second Tatro opinion by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. It found that a catheterization service was a medical service under the related services regulations. It found these regulations were rational and were enforceable.
There is language in the opinion which talks about the difference between necessary medical services and those which cannot be compensated under the Act. It approves compensation for medical evaluation services. The opinion also notes that room and board services should be provided. It then notes that ''expensive'' hospital and physician services may not be subject to compensation. It does not reconcile this language.
Overall, it creates a standard of looking at the substance of the service and not the label placed upon it. The defendant in Tatro had said that catheterization is a medical service provided by medical personnel and therefore should not be provided under the Act. The Court looked at the fact that school systems traditionally provide nurses to non-handicapped students and that this service did not have to be provided by a doctor. Thus, it seems to be holding that even if the service would nominally be provided by a physician, the test should be whether or not that service must be provided by a medical individual. An example can be the services of a psychiatrist, the federal funds could compensate for the counseling or program coordination functions, traditional psychological and educational functions, but could not necessarily compensate for the administering of drugs or other type of traditional doctor related activity.
Smith v. Robinson This case involves an appeal by a school district contesting the award of attorney's fees to a parent who had won a special education case. The attorney fee had been awarded under Section 504 and 1988. The Court generally decided that because 94142 does not expressly provide for attorney's fees, that this was a Congressional decision not to award these to parents who win.
The analysis states that since the relief sought in this case was identical under the Act and under constitutional claim and the 504 claims, that the attorney fee was preempted.
The Court notes that earlier in the case, the Plaintiff had won an interim attorney fee for seeking preliminary injunctive relief. This was not directly before the Court, but was not overturned. Additional, the Court notes that there could be instances in which a 504 claim is different than a 94142 claim. In those instances, an attorney fee may be available. The Court also notes that in instances in which you could not be afforded full relief under the Education Act, then you may still have constitutional and 504 claims. An example of this would be constitutional due process violations for, as in the facts before the Court, a school district's refusal to allow a child to stay in the child's then present educational placement during the due process procedures. This required the child's family to seek a preliminary injunction before a federal district court. This injunction is ordinarily not necessary and is not relief otherwise available under the Education Act. Yet, since it w as necessary as a matter of equity, an attorney fee would be recoverable for these activities.
In summary, a general rule is that a parent may not maintain a constitutional and 504 claim if the issue in the case is what is the appropriate program. In limited exceptional circumstances, independent claims may be maintained and an attorney fee collected. Finally, the Court in its holding, resolves many of the defenses which school districts have raised against parents in these cases. Its holding would prevent claims that relief cannot be granted due to constitutional immunity. It also makes it clear that in certain limited situations, such as where the due process procedures have been violated by the local defendants, that complete exhaustion of the administrative hearing process is not necessary.
Georgia Association for Retarded Citizens v. Dr. Charles McDaniel (GARC v. McDaniel) On remand from the Supreme Court the 11th Circuit adopted and reaffirmed all aspects of its prior opinion except for striking all references to 504. The lower court's ruling under Judge Horace Ward substantially follows an earlier ruling in Pennsylvania known as the Armstrong case. This case vas brought by Georgia Legal Services and the Georgia Association for Retarded Citizens as a class action on behalf of a profoundly and severely mentally retarded child and his parents. The decision has implications for children in other disability areas. The court concluded that, (1) Both the local defendants and the state defendants, contrary to their contentions, have policies which prohibit the consideration of mentally retarded children's needs for schooling in excess of 180 days and the provision of such excess schooling if necessary. (2) the court concludes that the Handicapped Act places responsibility on defendants to fully consider the individual needs of all handicapped children. (3) Therefore there can be no question that the defendants must provide schooling in excess of 180 days for any child that may need it. The Handicapped Act's mandate in this regard is clear. The state and local defendants have a joint obligation to provide each handicapped child with an appropriate education, with the ultimate responsibility for such provision falling on the state.
School Committee of the Town of Burlington, Massachusetts, et al. v. Department of Education of Massachusetts The Supreme court in a unanimous decision released on April 29, 1985 in this case ruled that parents who unilaterally place their child in a private school during exhaustion of their administrative and judicial remedies have not waived the right to reimbursement for expenses of the private placement if it is ultimately determined that the private placement was appropriate. This important ruling affects the understanding of the ramifications of changing a child's current placement during the pendency of proceedings to review a challenged IEP. Up until this decision it was generally understood that making such a change during the pendency of proceedings would mean a waiving of the right to reimbursement.
S-1 v. Turlington The Court of Appeals found (1) That suspension/expulsion is a ''change in educational placement'' under the Act. Therefore this cannot occur without prior notice and hearing rights. If a parent contests the change, then the child remains in the present placement pending completion of all due process rights. (2) That the school system has the affirmative duty of determining if the alleged incident(s) is related to the child's handicap. This must be done by special education personnel and not the principal or school board. This includes children seemingly permanently expelled from school. And, (3) That though expulsion is an appropriate disciplinary tool, the system may not cease all aspects of the special education program during suspension/expulsion.
Helms v. McDaniel This Court of Appeals case was essentially a review of Georgia's due process procedures and has resulted in changes in many states' procedures: (1) The decision of the hearing officer must be a final decision. It must be enforceable regardless of its acceptance or rejection by the local board. (2) The local board's act of rejecting a decision shall be considered only their internal decision whether to appeal to the state board. (3) The decision to be reviewed at the state board level shall be the hearing officer's. (4) At the state board level, the state hearing officer shall make a final decision. It shall not be subject to amendment or rejection by members of the state board.
Powell v. DeFore This Court of Appeals case concerned claims by a family whose child had been removed from special education. They sought expungement of records and damages for the inappropriate placement. The 11 Circuit Court of Appeals adopted the holdings of other circuits concerning the standard upon which parents may seek compensatory damages. They hold the under PL 94-142 and 504 that damage relief is not ordinarily available. It c an be available in exceptional circumstances. These exceptional circumstances can be life endangering emergencies or when the defendants exhibit bad faith. This case must be evaluated in light of the more recent holding of the United States Supreme Court. (Tatro and Smith)
Mayson v. Teague Eleventh Circuit Court ruled that Alabama could not appoint local special education and university personnel as hearing officers because of impartiality requirements.
Roncker v. Walter The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a challenge to Ohio's system of segregating the severely mentally retarded into county operated schools which are totally segregated schools. The children have absolutely no opportunity to interact with non-handicapped children. Less severely retarded youngsters are generally educated in special classes within the regular public schools. The Circuit Court found that:
(1) placement decisions must be individually made and that placing children in a predetermined type of school based only on their classification was a violation of the law; (2) classification decisions themselves cannot be based on a sole criteria classification (example: IQ score); (3) integration decisions must be decided according to 4 arguments;
(a) Whether the child will benefit. If the child shows no progress, could he have been provided with additional services which would have improved his performance. (b) Whether services in a segregated setting could feasiblely be provided in a nonsegregated setting. (c) Cost is a defense only if a continuum of service is in place because alternative placements benefit all children. (d) Description by the student or outside personnel is a factor only for each individual child cannot be used to exclude a group and should be addressed in the IEP to provide for long term reintegration.
Christopher N. v. McDaniel This Court of Appeals case involves a parent's challenge to the due process procedures provided by the state and their petition for reimbursement for private school placement. Trial court determined that based upon Helms the procedures afforded this family violated the Act. This vas seen as sufficient cause to constitute the bad faith exception under the Powell v. DeFore holding.