The Forest Grove School District v. T.A. 6-3 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 22, 2009 held for the parents, granting them the right to seek reimbursement for the unilateral placement of their child. This decision continued the body of case law from Burlington and Carter regarding the right of parents to seek reimbursement for unilateral placement when the public school option is not appropriate. In order to fully understand the distinctions between the 2009 Forest Grove decision and the Carter decision in 1993 (the last decision controlling reimbursement for unilateral placements), click here for a side by side comparison of both decisions.
In comparing the two cases appearing above, one thing is apparent. The facts of the Forest Grove case are far worse than in Carter. Its issues derive from the current practice of “Response to Intervention” and school policies across the country of not referring to special education or, if referral occurs, not to comprehensively evaluate the child. Even so, three judges dissented, including Souter, considered to be a part of the liberal membership of the Court. Cost is now a clear factor in the laws governing special education, in spite of the majority holding that the Spending Clause does not require a different result.
The Forest Grove case was remanded back to the U.S. District Court for a decision on whether or not the parents will be reimbursed for some or all of the unilateral placement costs. Hence, similar to Winkleman, what seems to be a win for the parents, may, in fact, turn out to be a hollow victory. Whether or not the parents actually receive reimbursement, and if so, how much, remains to be seen.