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Court Rules Districts Must Reimburse Parents for Independent Evaluations Under IDEA

Written by NCLD Public Policy Team | January 10, 2013

Thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), parents have the right to request that their child’s school district conduct a formal evaluation for learning disabilities (LD) at no cost to the family. But what happens when parents disagree with the results of the school district’s evaluation? Parents always have the right to obtain a private evaluation outside of the school district, but the question of who pays for this evaluation can get tricky. But a new court decision offers some clarity.

In 2005, a Jefferson County, Alabama family disagreed with the school district’s initial evaluation of their son and obtained an independent evaluation. Because the statutes of IDEA require that parents be reimbursed for independent evaluation in these circumstances, they approached the school district for reimbursement. The district refused to reimburse the parents and entered a legal battle through administrative channels and then the federal courts questioning parents’ right to obtain a “second opinion” private evaluation at public expense.

The contentious legal battle that resulted between the family and the Alabama district ended in November when a federal court ruled in favor of the family, upholding the IDEA statute requiring districts to pay for independent evaluations when parents disagree with the initial assessment of the child.

The case, Phillip C. v. Jefferson County Board of Education, took seven years to settle. It represents a contentious set of issues around public and independent evaluations, but further affirms parents’ right to an independent second evaluation at public expense. Each time IDEA has been renewed (in 1990, 1997, and 2004) parents have retained this right. Despite differing levels of controversy from school districts, it seems that the law is on the side of parents who request publicly funded evaluations.

If you disagree with your child’s initial public evaluation and want to explore further options, make sure to contact your local Parent Training and Information Center for guidance, as state and district policies may vary.

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