A federal court of appeals has ruled that a New Jersey school district is required to provide compensatory education to a student with disabilities, even though the student have moved out of state. Under Federal law, compensatory education is awarded to special education students who have not received the services to which they are entitled in order to “compensate” for missed learning opportunities.
The case, D.F. vs. Collingswood Borough Board of Education, involves a boy with ADHD and other disabilities whose mother had filed a due process complaint, alleging that the district failed to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The family was in the middle of due process when they moved out of state and withdrew all claims except for those for compensatory education. A district court held that the claim for compensatory education was rendered moot because the family had moved to another state.
This fall, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed that ruling, ordering the New Jersey district to provide compensatory education. In the decision, the court wrote that to do otherwise would undermine the purpose of IDEA and would disproportionately affect low-income families, who cannot afford to front the costs of their children’s education.
The court suggested that the district could provide compensatory education in a number of ways, including establishing a fund that could be spent on his education, paying the student’s new district or contracting with a local provider in the boy’s new area to provide tutoring, counseling, or other support services.
“A New Jersey District Court ruled that a child’s claim to compensatory education was moot because the child subsequently moved from New Jersey to another state.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia will review a case that has potential to undermine special education rights for students with disabilities. The case, D.F. v. Collingswood Public Schools, involves access to compensatory education.
Guaranteed by federal law, compensatory education is an award of special education programs or services, such as tutoring, speech or physical therapy, in order to make up for a school district’s failure to provide a “free and appropriate public education,” or FAPE. It is often the only remedy available to students to address past violations.
Last year, a New Jersey district court ruled that a child’s claim to compensatory education was moot because the child subsequently moved from New Jersey to another state.
The New Jersey-based Education Law Center (ELC) filed an amicus brief in the case, urging the Third Circuit to reverse the lower court’s decision, and was joined on the brief by nearly a dozen national and statewide advocacy organizations. The document urges the court to uphold compensatory education awards to children who leave school districts that previously denied them special education programs and services.
The decision has implications for all students with disabilities, but particularly indigent students and others, who may move out of the district, including across state lines.
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal of a California school district ordered to provide compensatory tutoring to a teen with learning disabilities.
The case, Compton Unified School District v. Addison, involves a tenth-grade student who had failed every class and whose work, according to court records, was “gibberish and incomprehensible.” A mental health professional urged the district to evaluate the teen for special education, but the district ignored the recommendation, instead promoting her to the next grade. Later, the teen’s mother requested an evaluation, which revealed that the girl’s learning disabilities made her eligible for special education under IDEA.
The mother brought an administrative claim under IDEA, arguing that the district violated IDEA’s “child-find” requirement because it failed to identify her daughter’s disabilities in a timely manner. An administrative law judge ruled in favor of the family’s position, ordering the district to provide compensatory tutoring to make up for the girl’s lost educational opportunities. The district appealed lower court rulings.
The question presented to the Supreme Court was whether the due process hearing procedures under IDEA allow a parent to bring a claim of negligence against a school district for failing to identify a child’s disability, as required by the law’s “child-find” provision. That provision requires that all children with disabilities in need of special education services be identified, located and evaluated.
The high court’s refusal to hear the case lets stand the decision of the lower court.