Author Topic: Confinement= no funding  (Read 1621 times)

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Confinement= no funding
« on: September 06, 2002, 04:26:00 AM »
WASHINGTON, February 26, 2002 -- The U.S. Supreme Court for a second and likely final time Feb. 19 declined to review an Illinois case challenging whether a school district is required to pay for private schooling that is deemed primarily to confine rather than educate a child with special needs. The mother of Dale M., a teenager in Illinois' Bradley-Bourbonnais School District, asked the district to pay for her son's placement at Elan, a private school in Maine, after he was released from juvenile detention for repeated burglary and drug offenses in the local community. Though the Illinois state hearing officer initially granted her petition, ordering the school district to pay his costs at Elan, it was overturned by a state review officer, then traveled up the chain of state and federal appellate courts to the Supreme Court.
After the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed the school is not required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to pay for Dale's private school, the Supreme Court declined to review that decision.

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The case centers on whether the private school provided Dale educational services that could not be provided by the school district's choice, what the U.S. appeals court called a "therapeutic day school" in the local community. Dale was released from juvenile detention only because his mother agreed to put him in a residential school, which could restrict his movements and keep him away from criminal activity, according to the federal appeals court ruling. However, his mother argued the private school was also providing the education Dale is entitled to under IDEA. The state review officer disagreed, determining that Elan "does not offer psychiatric or other medical treatment" for Dale's problems -- drug and alcohol abuse and depression that fueled a "conduct disorder," the federal appeals court stated.

"As far as we can determine, it's just a boarding school for difficult children," the federal panel said. "It merely provided confinement, thus solving the problem of his truancy."

According to the federal court, "Dale's problems are not primarily educational. He has the intelligence to perform well as a student and no cognitive defect or disorder such as dyslexia that prevents him from applying his intelligence to the acquisition of an education, without special assistance." Therefore, the court reasoned, a student in a private school addressing problems that are not "primarily educational" does not qualify for school district funding.

Though two of the three federal appellate judges voted to uphold the lower court ruling in favor of Bradley-Bourbonnais School District, judge Kenneth F. Ripple disagreed, arguing the court failed to consider Congress' original intent in passing IDEA. "The majority fails itself to give adequate deference ? to the manifest will of the Congress that the District must provide support services that are necessary for the meaningful delivery of educational services," Ripple wrote in his dissent. "By holding that, as a matter of law, the residential program at Elan does not come within the ambit of the Act, the majority not only dooms Dale M.'s case but also sets this circuit on a course different from that of all the courts that have interpreted this provision."

Those courts, Ripple argues, recognized "that the nature of support services necessarily will be varied and, in the case of some children, broad." Thus, he says, the courts have ruled that Congress intended the law to cover "the provision of a support service that is a necessary predicate for learning, and not segregable from the learning process." In Dale M.'s case, the judge contends, the courts have wrongfully viewed him as "a delinquent deserving of punishment, not education."

According to Ripple, the value of Elan's services to troubled kids has been underestimated by the lower courts and his fellow federal appellate judges, Richard A. Posner and John L. Coffey. He notes that the court record shows Elan's program incorporates life skills, counseling and class work in its educational approach. "Reasonable people can disagree about the effectiveness of providing a structured environment that demands contributing labor to a communal living environment," Ripple added. "However, none of us who wear black robes are in an institutional position to second guess the Illinois Department of Education that approved the program as a permissible placement for Illinois school children." 8
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