In a decision dated May 14, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals determined that special education parents must give school districts an opportunity to meet the needs of special education students and must comply with notice requirements prior to unilaterally placing a student in a private school placement.

In J.F. v. Byram School District, parents sought to have the local district pay for the student’s unilateral placement in a private school for students with disabilities, despite the assurances of the district that its program could provide the student with a free and appropriate public education.  The student had been attending the private school when he lived in a previous school district and sought to continue that placement upon moving into the Byram school district.

The district however, said that they could provide the student with a free and appropriate public education and had assured the lower court that they had the capability to do so.

The Third Circuit denied the parents the tuition reimbursement for the unilateral placement in the private school on two grounds. First, state special educational regulations, N.J.A.C. 6A:14-2.10(c), require at least 10 days written notice of their intent to enroll their student in a private school.  Second, the parents acted unreasonably in their insistence that their student attend the private school.  The parents only met with district officials once, refused to visit the school, did not meet with their student’s prospective teachers and did not discuss their specific concerns about the district program with district officials.

In denying the parents the relief they were seeking, the court said,” the IDEA was not intended to fund private school tuition for the children of parents who have not first given the public school a good faith opportunity to meet its obligations.”

For further information about this case please contact the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 278-5254 or your board attorney.