Supreme Court Hears IDEA Expert Case
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
April 27, 2006
WASHINGTON, DC--The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on April 19 over whether the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act authorizes courts to force schools to pay for expert witnesses brought in by parents that win lawsuits regarding their children's special education.
The case concerns Pearl and Theodore Murphy who successfully sued Arlington Central School District of Poughkeepsie, New York for the costs of sending their son, Joseph, to a private school for two years. They had argued that the school had failed to provide Joseph with a "free appropriate public education".
After the Murphys won the case, they asked the district court to order Arlington to pay the $29,350 it cost them to hire educational consultant Marilyn Arons, M.S. After determining that Arons did not have to be paid for interest or mileage, the court ordered the school district to pay $8,650 for Arons' fees.
The district appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, arguing that the federal law is too vague.
In March 2004 the appellate court sided with the Murphys, agreeing that the IDEA calls for parties who win such cases to be reimbursed for such costs.
Earlier this year, the National Disability Rights Network and the Center for Law and Education filed a "friend of the court" brief supporting the parents' position. The advocacy groups contend that expert witnesses are vital to parents who sue to have appropriate educations for their children, and that the IDEA was written to allow for such costs to be covered.
Long-time special education attorney Pete Wright told Connect For Kids that the kinds of questions the justices asked last week have him worried that the high court might side with the district. Wright said that the general attitude of the court has changed since the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist and the departure of Sandra Day O'Connor, both of whom were sympathetic to children's issues.
"There has been a change, the mood has shifted, and my suspicion is that there's an economic analysis going on, a fear that special education litigation is costing school districts a lot of money," Wright said.
"Local education case argued before US Supreme Court" (Poughkeepsie Journal)
"NDC statement on Supreme Court Arlington Central School District Case" (National Council on Disability)
"An Expert Prediction: Parents Face Long Odds in Supreme Court Case on Special Education" (Connect For Kids)
"Arlington v. Murphy" Oral Argument on April 19 (Wrightslaw)
"Amicus brief" (National Disability Rights Network)
"Expert is advocate for rights of disabled" (Poughkeepsie Journal)