M.C. v. Voluntown Bd. of Educ.

US Court of Appeals

Oct 30, 2000

Case Name: M.C. v. Voluntown Bd. of Educ., 226 F.3d 60 (2nd Cir. 2000), decided September 12, 2000
REMAND: M.C. v. Voluntown Bd. of Educ., 2000 Lexis 18004 (D. Conn. 2000), decided October 30, 2000

This is a second circuit court of appeals case that deals with the issue of whether a student who is classified as disabled pursuant to the special education act (“IDEA”) is entitled to reimbursement for the costs of private school tuition and counseling undertaken without the consent of the local school district. The district court had previously allowed reimbursement for both of those services.

M.C., a seventeen-year-old boy, was diagnosed with a central auditory processing disorder, with difficulty in written expression and processing information (especially verbal) and classified as learning disabled under the IDEA criteria from the fourth grade. M.C.’s travails with the Voluntown school district (“Voluntown”) began in 1995, when his parents asserted that M.C. was not receiving an appropriate education due to his learning disability. The parents sought reimbursement for M.C.’s placement at the Rectory School (“Rectory”) for the 1997-98 school year – a placement taken with Voluntown’s knowledge but without a contractual agreement between Rectory and Voluntown, a prerequisite mandated in the June 1997 PPT. The court found that although the Rectory placement was appropriate for the 1996-97 school year, and that M.C. made “remarkable progress” at Rectory, the placement for 1997-98 was not appropriate because Voluntown and Rectory could not agree on a contract to govern the terms of the placement.

In looking at the appropriateness of the placement, the court rejected the district court’s analysis because it failed to determine whether the school district had provided an IEP adequate to provide a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”) – having skipped directly to an analysis of whether the private educational service obtained was appropriate based on the child’s needs. The court relied on the two part test enumerated in School Comm. Town of Burlington v. Dept, of Educ., 471 U.S. 359 (1985), and remanded the case back to the district court for an analysis of whether Voluntown’s potential placements for the 1997-98 school year constituted FAPE under IDEA. The court went on to chide the district court’s reliance on Florence Co. Sch. Dist. v. Carter, 510 U.S. 7 (1993) which provides guidance for a private school placement analysis only when the answer to Burlington’s question one (was the IEP appropriate?) is negative.

The circuit court also rejected the reimbursement for private psychological counseling on the ground that under IDEA, reimbursement is “barred where parents unilaterally arrange for private educational services without ever notifying the school board with their dissatisfaction of the IEP.” Here, the parents first mentioned the counseling eight months after the counseling ended. Because it was not raised for review as part of the IEP, parents were out of luck to seek reimbursement after the fact.

ON REMAND, the district court “reluctantly” reversed its prior judgment against Voluntown, agreeing that one of the placements offered in the IEP crafted in June 1997 met the Burlington test, though it was not as desirable as the one provided at Rectory. The district court protested the circuit’s interpretation of the law (at p.5) given the “unusual facts” of the case, but reversed its prior judgement nonetheless.

For full text of case from FindLaw, click here.

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