Supreme Court Ruling Cements Victory for Parents of Child with Autism

Parents continue to have the right to an independent educational evaluation of their child, paid for by the public school district, as set forth in the regulations implementing the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

On October 7, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to review a Decision from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. This means that the Eleventh Circuit Decision, which found in favor of the parents, is the final decision in this matter. The Jefferson County School District is required to pay for the independent educational evaluation of a child with Autism. [case cite? Link to 11th circuit decision? Phillip C. v. Jefferson County Bd. of Ed., 701 F.3d 691 (11th Cir. 2012)]

According to Attorney Deborah Mattison, who represented the plaintiff-parents in this case, “an independent evaluation is one of the best ways for parents to figure out whether their child needs different services than a school district has recommended. For example, a reading program that is good for a child with a learning disability may not be helpful for a child with Autism. Parents are rarely experts in disabilities, but they need that type of expert information to help them make informed decisions for their children. This is a very important ruling for all parents of children who may be in need of additional help from the school district.”

Phillip and Angie C. are the parents of A.C., a child who receives special education and related services through an IEP based on his diagnosis of Autism. In 2005, the C.s became concerned about A.C.’s performance in school. He seemed to be losing skills. Although his teachers were giving him ‘good grades’, A.C.’s parents didn’t think the grades accurately reflected what was going on in the classroom. The C.s also felt the teachers were isolating and restraining A.C. for ‘bad’ behavior instead of teaching him how to behave better. The C.s thought A.C.’s IEP might need to be changed. The C.s shared their concerns with the school district and the district did some evaluations of A.C. However, after reviewing the results, the C.s didn’t think the school district’s evaluations accurately represented A.C.’s abilities. The C.s weren’t sure what to do. They needed more information about their son’s strengths and weaknesses.

As a result, the C.s got an independent educational evaluation of A.C. After getting the results of the evaluation, the C.s asked the school district to reimburse them for the money they spent getting the evaluation of A.C. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parents have the right to an independent educational evaluation of their child at public expense if they disagree with an evaluation completed by the school district. Upon receipt of a request for an IEE at public expense, a district can either agree to pay for the evaluation or request a hearing to show that its evaluations were appropriate under the law. The school district did neither.

Phillip and Angie C. sought legal help from Attorney Deborah A. Mattison, of Wiggins, Childs, Quinn, and Pantazis. On behalf of the C.s, Attorney Mattison requested a due process hearing under IDEA. The administrative hearing officer found that the school district had to pay for the evaluation.

The school district challenged the hearing officer’s order and appealed to the federal district court. The school district argued that the IDEA regulation requiring it to pay for independent evaluations wasn’t valid and, therefore, the school district didn’t have to comply with the regulation. The district court held that the regulation was valid and that the school district had to pay for the evaluation. The school district disagreed with the ruling and appealed to the next highest court – the Eleventh Circuit. The Eleventh Circuit also said that the regulation was valid and that the school district had to pay for the evaluation. The school district appealed again, asking the Supreme Court of the United States to review the Eleventh Circuit Decision. The Supreme Court said no.

Through their successful work on this case, Attorney Mattison and Attorney Rachel L. McGinley helped defend an extremely important right for parents – the right to an independent educational evaluation at public expense. If you have questions about a school district’s evaluation of your child or you think your child may be in need of independent educational evaluation, please contact Deborah Mattison or Rachel McGinley.

Tier 1:Employment Law - Individuals|Litigation - Labor & Employment|Labor Law - Union