The United States Supreme Court, in a 6-to-3 decision, ruled that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) authorizes parents of disabled children to seek reimbursement for private special education services irrespective of whether the child ever received special education services through the public school.

In Forest Grove, the child, T.A., was a student in the Forest Grove School District (the School District) where he had been a student from kindergarten through his junior year. T.A. experienced educational difficulties when he entered high school. The School District evaluated T.A. for a learning disability and concluded that he did not have a disability, making him ineligible for special education services. T.A.'s parents then sought advice from a private specialist who diagnosed him with an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The parents enrolled T.A. in a private school that focused on educating students with special needs. At the same time, they requested that the School District conduct an administrative review to determine whether he was eligible for special education services under IDEA. At the end of the administrative review process, a hearing officer concluded that the School District had failed to provide T.A. with a “free and appropriate public education” as IDEA requires and ordered the School District to reimburse the parents for T.A.’s private school tuition.

The School District appealed the hearing officer’s decision to the courts, arguing the IDEA Amendments of 1997 barred reimbursement to T.A. because they require tuition reimbursements only when the child has received special education or related services pursuant to a school district’s authority. The Supreme Court rejected the School District’s argument, holding that the amendments do not bar reimbursement to a child seeking special education services even when the child did not previously receive such services through a public school.

The decision is viewed as a victory for parents who have children with special needs. School districts fear the decision encourages parents not to collaborate with the schools when addressing a child’s special needs. Although it is unclear what the decision’s impact will be on the country’s public school system, it certainly suggests that parents should not be timid about seeking special education services for their children.