Burlington School Comm v Mass Department of ED 1985 Case Study

Excerpt from Case Study :

Burlington School Comm. V. Mass. Dept. Of Ed. (1985)

Compensation for learners with extraordinary requirements that is not provided in the states education laws bring costs to parents and the laws do not provide for compensation of this. Termed 'compensatory education' courts have exercised their jurisdiction in awarding costs to claimants and the courts have been relying on sec.20 USC 1415(2) (B) (ii) for students. The Burlington School Committee V Massachusetts Dept. Of Education 1984 heralded the change in the definition and eligibility for the compensatory education. The salient awards pertain to the recognition of the power of courts to grant reimbursement to the applicants from private school education that was not included in the 'Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act' -- IDEA.

Following this judgment, courts held that where the parent was able to afford the private school education, the reimbursement was shown to be the remedy. Further, for the parent who cannot afford private tuition, the student will be afforded a compensatory education. It was held in Miener Vs state of Missouri 1986-87 EHLR 558-123 (8th circuit court 1986) that there exists a right for a disabled child to receive 'Free Appropriate Public Education' -- FAPE and this will not be affected by the parent's affluence or lack thereof. Though the courts have interfered in the cases of compensation for education before, this judgment brings about the absolute jurisdiction of the courts as a rule of law, and legislatures that may follow will necessarily have to consider the principle of the judgment.

According to the learned judges, the Education of the Handicapped Act (Act), 84 Stat. 175, as amended, 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq. is to see that handicapped children and their parents or guardians are assured of free appropriate public education. Thus the scope of an individualized education program -- IEP must be considered as a right and for that the child or parent must be able to challenge in administrative and court proceedings and have their say. The importance is in considering the placement of the child and the accruing financial liability for such a placement. This case needs us to address some questions (Wrightslaw.com, 2010). The need for some forum for the relief of the claims of parents was felt to be imperative. In other words the Judiciary had to be empowered to interfere. This was what the judgment brought about. The reasoning for the judgment also stems from the need of the parents with this peculiar difficulty.

2) The Supreme Court's reasoning

The Court examined the Education of the Handicapped Act (Act), 84 Stat. 175, as amended, 20 U.S.C. § 1401 et seq., and the 'individualized education program' -- IEP. It is to be understood that a contested IEP takes years to resolve and this affects the child's development, thus creating urgency in the "interim placement of the child and financial responsibility for that placement" (Wrightslaw.com, 2010). The court elaborated on these problems. Thus the son of the appellant -- Robert Panico is the handicapped Michael Panico, a first grader in the public school system of petitioner Town of Burlington, Massachusetts, was diagnosed with 'specific learning disabilities,' therefore was handicapped as per 20 U.S.C. § 1401(1). This made the child eligible for a public expense specially designed instruction and transportation. The negotiations for this spanned eight years between the respondent and the appellants. On hearing the matter on merits the court was pleased to grant certiorari considering some of the issues (Wrightslaw.com, 2010).

One of the major issues was the expense involved in giving the child facilities that were not available in the public schools. In this context the expenses involved in private admittance of the child-out of public school was settled and even the High Court ruled that unilateral change made by the parent in a school that was not approved was considered in appeal. The issue, which was the matter of contention, was settled in favor of the parents who resort to such education on the basis of non-availability of resources for the child in public schools (Yell, 2006).

The court also examined the act and the purpose of the legislation and interpreted the statement of the congress thus: The judgment quoted the statement verbatim, and in gist the congress wished to see that handicapped children everywhere receive public education along with special education and related services that they may require. The rights of handicapped children and their parents or guardians are to be protected. The judgment thus takes this to be the basis of considering the issue of private expenditure, because if the child is to receive access to its rights, there also must be made available the access to private services where public services do not exist or is not compatible with the child's need. (Wrightslaw.com, 2010)

The court also appreciated the view of the congress that since the parents are at a disadvantage against the school authorities, and that disputes would result in unfair advantage to authorities, Congress has incorporated procedural safeguards in Section 1415(b) and other sections provide for an independent educational evaluation of the child, and are at liberty to demand "an impartial due process hearing, which in the instant case was the Burlington School Education Authorities -- BSEA hearing, to resolve their complaints" (Wrightslaw.com, 2010).

The court considered the question of issuing certiorari to school authorities to pay parents for their expenditures on private special education provided that a lower court feels that the placement rather than a proposed 'individualized education program' -- IEP is proper under the Act. The important principle of the judgment hinges around the fact that the court concluded that the Act has authorized such a reimbursement. The type of relief is let open in the act, making it the discretion of the courts. Thus if the courts feel that the expenditure was warranted, the reimbursement follows. This is interpreted to be the scope of "appropriate compensation" in the judgment. Further the court contended that the Act contemplates the special education be provided in regular public schools, with the child participating as much as possible in the same activities as non-handicapped children. Further from the act the court explained that where a parent wanted a private placement and the IEP calling for placement in a public school was inappropriate, courts are to give a prospective injunction "directing the school officials to develop and implement at public expense an IEP placing the child in a private school" (Wrightslaw.com, 2010).

This is the important interpretation in the judgment of the act such that it became a part of the relief sought and court interpreted the statute to incorporate the relief sought in the provisions of the act. This was further extended to financial disputes thus where the availability of a program is disputed and the incidence of financial responsibility, are in question, the court in this judgment held that it is subject to the due process procedures under [§ 1415]. 34 CFR § 300.403 (1984)(Wrightslaw.com, 2010). Thus the judgment brought into ambit the costs of parents in special education by reinterpreting "such relief as the court determines is appropriate, to be within the meaning of § 1415(e)(2), thus making equitable considerations are relevant in granting relief"(Wrightslaw.com, 2010). Thus there is more scope for judicial intervention in allied causes to the issue in the Burlington case.

3) Discussion

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act -- IDEA, 2004 is the source of rules that can govern the funding for special education programs. In Part B of the statute the guidelines for providing FAPE is set out and Part D focuses on the actual implementation. It is where the parents and the establishment first disagree in the evaluation of the handicap of the child and its evaluation. Parents may want to have a private evaluation…

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