Friday, June 30, 2017
Eighth Circuit Holds That Private School Student with Special Needs Entitled to FAPE Under Minnesota Law
Although the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not guarantee a right to special education services for private school students with disabilities, the Eighth Circuit recently held that Minnesota law does require public school districts to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for private school students, as well as the right to dispute the provisions of special education services in an impartial due process hearing. In Special School District No. 1 v. R.M.M., 16-1601 (8th Cir. June 29, 2017), R.M.M., a student who attended a Catholic private school in Minneapolis, received an evaluation from the Minneapolis Public Schools (Special School District No. 1), in the fifth grade for special education services in reading, written expression, and math. After the Catholic school informed her parents that it could not provide the special education services that the student needed, the student transferred to Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). The student sued MPS for failing to provide appropriate special education services while she was enrolled in private school. The Administrative Law Judge concluded that R.M.M. had been denied a FAPE; the federal district court dismissed the FAPE claims again the school system, but held that Minnesota law granted private school students the right to under the state law counterpart to FAPE. The district court also ruled for R.M.M. on the issue of whether private school students in Minnesota are entitled to a due process hearing to dispute whether they have received a FAPE. On MPS' appeal to the Eighth Circuit, the appeals court held that Minnesota's provision went beyond the minimum requirements of the IDEA, and when comparing Minnesota's statute with language in IDEA, the Eighth Circuit found that the Minnesota legislature intended to provide private students the right to a FAPE, even though the statute does not use the term. The applicable statute, known as the shared-time statute, provides that “No resident of a district who is eligible for special instruction and services under this section may be denied instruction and service on a shared time basis . . . because of attending a nonpublic school.” Id. § 125A.18. The appellate court also affirmed the district court on the issue of R.M.M.'s parents' ability to to an impartial due process hearing under state law. The parents did have such a right under Minnesota law, the court held, rejecting MPS' argument that only the school district could pursue such remedies when a child was enrolled in a non-public school. The case, Special School District No. 1 v. R.M.M., 16-1601 (8th Cir. June 29, 2017), is available here.