Tuesday, July 28, 2015
D.C. Circuit Holds That District Must Pay For Residential School Placement After Failing To Provide An Alternative
Leggett v. Dist. of Columbia, No. 14-7021 (D.C. Cir. July 10, 2015) - Short take: when a school district drags its feet in providing a free appropriate education required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the district may be on the hook for a more costly one. In Leggett, the D.C. Circuit held that the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) was required to reimburse the costs of a private boarding school placement after DCPS failed to provide an individualized education program by the start of the school year. The IDEA requires school districts to reimburse parents for their private-school expenses if "(1) school officials failed to offer the child a free appropriate public education; (2) the private-school placement chosen by the parents was otherwise “proper under the Act”; and (3) the equities weigh in favor of reimbursement—that is, the parents did not otherwise act “unreasonabl[y].”" In Leggett, the parent requested an IEP under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act after her child did not complete the eleventh grade. DCPS failed to develop an IEP in time for the school year. After being told that her child would benefit from residential placement, Leggett chose a private boarding school where her child thrived. She sought reimbursement from DCPS for the cost of the residential program. DCPS countered that the residential school placement—with activities such as an equestrian program—was unnecessary because the student could have succeeded in a non-residential program. Both the due process hearing officer and the D.C. District Court found that DCPS violated the IDEA by failing to have an IEP in place by the beginning of the school year, but denied reimbursement because, in their view, the student did not require a residential program. The D.C. Circuit reversed the denial of reimbursement, holding that under Bd. of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central Sch. Dist. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 207 (1982), the student’s placement was proper because DCPS had offered no IEP, “identified no suitable alternative, and failed even to challenge Leggett’s claim that [the residential school] was the only available placement.” The circuit court held that on remand, DCPS could challenge the costs of extracurricular activities that were unnecessary for the student’s education. Read the opinion here.