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Legal Memorandum: Tuition Reimbursement for Private Schools

Issue: Are petitioners entitled to tuition reimbursement for a disabled student’s private school placement?

Area of Law: Education Law
Keywords: Tuition reimbursement; Unilateral parental placements; Child with a disability
Jurisdiction: Federal, New Jersey
Cited Cases: 471 U.S. 359
Cited Statutes: 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(10)(C)(i); N.J.A.C. 6A:14-2:10(a); N.J.A.C. 6A:14-2.10(b)
Date: 11/01/2006

Federal and New Jersey law do not require a school district to pay tuition costs of private schools if it has otherwise provided a child with a disability a free appropriate public education and the parents nonetheless unilaterally withdraw the child from public school and enroll him in a nonpublic school.  20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(10)(C)(i); N.J.A.C. 6A:14-2:10(a).  In School Committee of the Town of Burlington v. Department of Education, 471 U.S. 359 (1985), the Supreme Court established that tuition reimbursement for unilateral parental placements require two showings.  First, the student’s public placement must be inappropriate under the IDEA such that the district has not offered the student a free appropriate public education.  Second, the private placement must be appropriate to meet the student’s special educational needs.  If the court concludes that parents have satisfied both parts of the standards, the district must reimburse the parents for the cost of private education. 

Since the Supreme Court’s decisions in Burlington and Florence County, Congress enacted the 1997 IDEA amendments, codifying the Burlington standards.  

If the parents of a child with a disability, who previously received special education and related services under the authority of a public agency, enroll the child in a private elementary or secondary school without the consent of or referral by the public agency, a court or a hearing officer may require the agency to reimburse the parents for the cost […]

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