A court may grant reimbursement for a private placement even though it does not satisfy all of a student's needs

June 13, 2018



C.B. v. Garden Grove Unified School District, which is a case that went before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals back in 2011, concerned a student who was eligible for special education because of his autism and ADD. After the school district completed an IEP for C.B, his guardian submitted a letter to the school district expressing her dissent with the proposed program. The letter informed the school district that she would find a private placement for C.B. and would seek reimbursement. The private placement was certified as a nonpublic agency, but it was not certified as a nonpublic school. Its certification allowed it to provide speech and language therapy, but not academic instruction. C.B. needed instruction in math.     


The Supreme Court has set the basic criteria that a parent or guardian must meet before they may be awarded reimbursement for a unilateral placement (one not made in agreement or consent with the school district): 1) the public placement violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and 2) the private school placement is proper under the law. If both criteria are met, a court may use broad discretion to determine whether to reimburse the parent or guardian and, if so, how much. 


Here, a lower court had determined that C.B. received significant benefits in important areas of his special educational needs and awarded C.B.'s guardian full reimbursement. The school district argued that the rate of reimbursement should have been reduced by the percentage by which the private program was unable to meet the child's educational needs.


In a similar case, Florence County School District Four v. Carter, the Supreme Court held that reimbursement was warranted even though the private school had failed to meet state education standards and the school district was unable to provide the student with all of the necessary educational benefits.


Similarly in this case, the Ninth Circuit determined that equity does not require a reduction in reimbursement just because a parent or guardian cannot afford to give the child everything or cannot find a program that does. Although the private placement did not meet all of C.B.'s educational needs, what the placement provided was proper, reasonably priced, and appropriate and benefitted him educationally. Thus, the Ninth Circuit concluded that the lower court had not abused its discretion in awarding full reimbursement.  


Martha Millar





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