WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court yesterday took the side of parents of children with disabilities, ruling they can claim reimbursement for the cost of private schooling if the public system fails to offer an appropriate program for their child.
The 6-3 decision settles a heated and costly dispute that has arisen across the country. It also deals a potentially expensive setback to public-school systems that are strapped for money.
At issue was who must pay the cost if the parents of a child with a disability withdraw him or her from public school and send the child to a private school.
In a case from Oregon, Forest Grove School District v. T.A., school officials argued that they should not have to pay the high cost if parents act unilaterally.
Lawyers for the parents of a high-school boy identified only as "T.A." said the Forest Grove district failed to provide any special education for him, despite his learning and behavior problems due to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. They enrolled him in a $5,000-a-month private residential academy and later sought reimbursement from the school district.
An administrative law judge ruled for the parents and said the district failed to provide an appropriate learning program for the student.
The Supreme Court upheld that decision, saying the federal law imposes a public duty to provide a "free, appropriate" education for all children with disabilities.
"We conclude that the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act authorizes reimbursement for the cost of private special education services when a school district fails to provide a free, appropriate public education . . . regardless of whether the child previously received special education or related services through the public school," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority.
He was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Justices David H. Souter, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas dissented.
In another 6-3 ruling yesterday, the justices gave a mining company the go-ahead to dump waste from an Alaskan gold mine into a nearby 23-acre lake, although the material will kill all of the lake's fish. Environmentalists fear the ruling could weaken protection of other waterways from mining waste.
The justices said a U.S. appeals court wrongly blocked on environmental grounds the Army Corps of Engineers waste-disposal permit for the Kensington gold mine, 45 miles north of Juneau. The mine, closed since 1928, has been awaiting a resumption of operation, pending approval of the waste-disposal issue.
The ruling in Coeur Alaska Inc. v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council clears the way for as much as 4.5 million tons of mine tailings - waste left after metals are extracted from the ore - to be dumped into Lower Slate Lake in the Tongass National Forest and about 3 miles from the mine, instead of being disposed of in a special tailings pond.
The court, in its majority opinion by Kennedy, said the Army Corps was correct in agreeing with the mining company that the waste should be considered "fill material" and not subject to more stringent Environmental Protection Agency standards under the federal Clean Water Act.
Joining Kennedy were Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Breyer, and Alito. Ginsburg, Stevens, and Souter dissented.
Environmentalists, who had sued to halt the mining company's waste-disposal plan, said dumping 200,000 gallons a day of mining waste water - containing aluminum, lead, mercury, and other metals - had dire implications not only for the Alaska lake, but possibly also for other lakes and waterways.
But Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin called the ruling "great news for Alaska" and said it "is a green light for responsible resource development."
Supreme Court's Other Actions
The justices yesterday also:
CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, brought against members of the Bush administration, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, that accused them of revealing her identity to reporters in 2003.
be told he has a right to have a lawyer present
during questioning by police. The Florida Supreme Court said Miranda warnings should include
disclosure that a suspect has a right to an attorney
not only before police questioning but also during
it. The Florida attorney general appealed the case
to the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments
- Associated PressEndText
Read the justices' opinions in the special-
education case via http://go.philly.com/
special-ed and in the Alaska mining case via http://go.philly.com/alaska