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FLORENCE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT FOUR, ET AL., PETI-TIONERS v. SHANNON CARTER, A MINOR BY AND THROUGH HER FATHER, AND NEXT FRIEND, EMORY D. CARTER

 

No. 91-1523

 

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

 

510 U.S. 7; 114 S. Ct. 361; 126 L. Ed. 2d 284; 1993 U.S. LEXIS 7154; 62 U.S.L.W. 4001; 93 Cal. Daily Op. Service 8329; 93 Daily Journal DAR 14208; 7 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 657

 

October 6, 1993, Argued 

November 9, 1993, Decided

 

 

PRIOR HISTORY:     ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF AP-PEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT. 

 

DISPOSITION:    950 F.2d 156, affirmed. 

 

CASE SUMMARY:

 

 

PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Respondent school district sought review of an order from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which affirmed an order finding that respondent breached its duty to petitioner parents to provide appropriate free public education to their child under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C.S. § 1400 et seq.

 

OVERVIEW: Petitioner parents filed suit under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C.S. § 1400 et seq., claiming that respondent school district breached its duty to pro-vide the student with a free appropriate public education and seeking reimbursement for tuition and costs from a private school. The district court ruled in petitioners' favor and the appeals court affirmed. On appeal, the court affirmed and held that a court could order reimbursement for parents who unilaterally withdrew their child from a public school that provided an inappropriate education under IDEA and put the child in a private school that provided an education that was otherwise proper under IDEA, but did not meet all the requirements of 20 U.S.C.S. § 1401(a)(18). The court found that equitable considerations were relevant in fashioning relief and the court enjoyed "broad discretion" in so doing. Courts fashioning discretionary equitable relief under IDEA had to consider all relevant factors, including the appropriate and reasonable level of reimbursement that were required.

 

OUTCOME: The court affirmed a judgment ordering reimbursement to petitioner parents because respondent school district breached its duty to provide a student with the free appropriate public edu-cation.

 

 

DECISION:

Parents held not barred under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act from reimbursement for child's private school placement on ground that school did not meet all statutory requirements. 

 

SUMMARY:

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (20 USCS 1400 et seq.) requires states to provide children with disabilities with a "free appropriate public education," which is defined in 20 USCS 1401(a)(18) as special education and related services that (1) have been provided at public ex-pense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge; (2) meet the standards of the state educational agency; (3) include an appropriate preschool, elementary, or secondary school education in the state involved; and (4) are provided in conformity with an individualized education program (IEP). The parents of a child with a learning disability were dissatisfied with an IEP proposed by the child's school district in South Carolina, and the parents requested a hearing, but both a local educa-tional officer and a state educational agency hearing officer rejected the parents' claim and concluded that the IEP was adequate. In the meantime, the parents had placed the child in a private school which specialized in educating children with disabilities. The parents also filed suit under the IDEA in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, seeking reimbursement for tuition and other costs incurred at the private school. The District Court, in concluding that the parents were entitled to such reimbursement, expressed the view that (1) the school district's proposed IEP was inadequate; and (2) the child's education was "appropriate" under the IDEA, where, according to the District Court, even though the private school did not comply with all of the procedures outlined in the statute, the school provided the child with an excellent education in substantial compliance with all of the statute's substantive requirements. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in affirming, (1) agreed that the IEP proposed by the school district was inadequate under the IDEA; and (2) rejected the school district's argument that reimbursement is never proper when parents choose a private school that is not approved by the state or that does not comply with all the IDEA's terms (950 F2d 156).

On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court affirmed. In an opinion by O'Connor, J., expressing the unanimous view of the court, it was held that (1) a court may order reimbursement for parents who unilaterally withdraw their child from a public school that provides an inappropriate education under the IDEA and put the child in a private school that provides an education that is otherwise proper under the IDEA, but does not meet all the requirements of 1401(a)(18), because (a) the requirements of 1401(a)(18) cannot be read as applying to such parental placements, (b) such reimbursement is not necessarily barred by a private school's failure to meet state education standards, and (c) allowing such reimbursement would not put an unreasonable burden on financially strapped local educational authorities; and (2) under the circumstances, the parents in the case at hand were not barred from reimbursement on the ground that the private school in question did not meet the 1401(a)(18) definition of a free appropriate public education, where, as the case came to the Supreme Court, it was settled that (a) the school district's proposed IEP was inappropriate under the IDEA, and (b) although the private school did not meet all the 1401(a)(18) requirements, the school provided an education otherwise proper under the IDEA. 

 

LAWYERS' EDITION HEADNOTES:

 

 [***LEdHN1]

 SCHOOLS §10

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act -- reimbursement of parents -- unilateral private school placement --

Headnote:[1A][1B][1C][1D]

With respect to a claim by the parents of a child with a learning disability for reimbursement for tuition and other costs incurred at a private school in which the parents, while review proceedings were pending, unilaterally placed the child when the parents were dissatisfied with an individualized education program (IEP) proposed by the child's school district in South Carolina, the United States Supreme Court will hold that, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (20 USCS 1400 et seq.), the parents are not barred from reimbursement on the ground that the private school did not meet the 20 USCS 1401(a)(18) definition of a "free appropriate public education," where (1) as the case comes to the Supreme Court, it is settled that (a) the school district's proposed IEP was inappropriate under the IDEA, and (b) although the private school did not meet all the requirements of 1401(a)(18), the school provided an education otherwise proper under the IDEA; (2) according to the school district, the private school's deficiencies in failing to meet state education standards were that the school (a) employed at least two faculty members who were not state-certified, and (b) did not develop IEP's; and (3) although the Supreme Court says that the absence of an approved list of private schools is not essential to the court's holding, the court notes that parents in the position of those in question have no way of knowing at the time that they select a private school whether it meets state standards, in that (a) South Carolina keeps no publicly available list of approved private schools, but instead approves private school placements on a case-by-case basis, (b) although public school offi-cials had previously placed three children at the private school in question, the school had not received blanket approval from the state, (c) thus, South Carolina's case-by-case system meant that the parents in question needed the cooperation of state officials before the parents could know whether the school was state-approved, and (d) such approval is unlikely in cases in which public school officials disagree with the need for private placement.

 

 [***LEdHN2]

 SCHOOLS §10

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act -- reimbursement of parents -- unilateral private school placement --

Headnote:[2A][2B][2C][2D][2E]

With respect to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (20 USCS 1400 et seq.)--which requires states to provide children with disabilities with a "free appropriate public education," which is defined in 20 USCS 1401(a)(18) as special education and related services that (1) under 1401(a)(18)(A), have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge, (2) under 1401(a)(18)(B), meet the standards of the state educational agency, (3) under 1401(a)(18)(C), include an appropriate preschool, elementary, or secondary school education in the state involved, and (4) under 1401(a)(18)(D), are provided in conformity with an individualized education program (IEP)--a court may order reimbursement for parents who unilaterally withdraw their child from a public school that provides an inappropriate education under the IDEA and put the child in a private school that provides an education that is otherwise proper under the IDEA, but does not meet all the requirements of 1401(a)(18), because (1) the requirements of 1401(a)(18) cannot be read as applying to such parental placements, where (a) the 1401(a)(18)(A) and 1401(a)(18)(D) requirements do not make sense in this context, in which parents' rejection of a school district's proposed IEP is the very reason for the parents' decision to put their child in a private school, (b) to read the 1401(a)(18) requirements as being applicable would effectively eliminate the recognized right of unilateral withdrawal, and (c) to read 1401(a)(18) as barring such reimbursement would defeat IDEA's purpose of insuring that children with disabilities receive an education that is both appropriate and free; (2) such reimbursement is not necessarily barred by a private school's failure to meet state education standards, where (a) the requirements of 1401(a)(18)(B) do not apply to such parental placements, and (b) it hardly seems consistent with the IDEA's goals to forbid parents from educating their child at a school that provides an appropriate education on the ground that the school lacks the approval of the same public school system that failed to meet a child's needs in the first place; and (3) allowing such reimbursement would not put an unreasonable burden on financially strapped local educational authorities, in view of (a) the educational alternatives available to such authorities, (b) the financial risk to parents who unilaterally change a child's placement during the pendency of review proceedings, and (c) the equitable considerations relevant under 20 USCS 1415(e)(2) in fashioning reimbursement relief.

 

 [***LEdHN3]

 SCHOOLS §10

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act -- placement -- reimbursement --

Headnote:[3]

Even though Congress has imposed a significant financial burden on states and school districts that participate in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (20 USCS 1400 et seq.), public educational authorities who want to avoid reimbursing parents for the private education of a child with a disability can do one of two things--(1) give the child a free appropriate public education in a public setting, or (2) place the child in an appropriate private setting of the state's choice; this is the IDEA's mandate, and school officials who conform to it need not worry about reimbursement claims.

 

 [***LEdHN4]

 SCHOOLS §10

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act -- placement -- reimbursement --

Headnote:[4]

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (20 USCS 1400 et seq.), parents who unilaterally change their child's placement from public to private during the pendency of review proceedings, without the consent of the state or local school officials, do so at their own financial risk; such parents are entitled to reimbursement only if a federal court concludes both that (1) the public placement violated the IDEA, and (2) the private school placement was proper under the IDEA; also, once a court holds that a public placement violated the IDEA, the court is authorized by 20 USCS 1415(e)(2) to grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate; under 1415(e)(2), equitable considerations are relevant in fashioning relief, and the courts enjoy broad discretion in so doing; courts fashioning equitable relief under the IDEA must consider all relevant factors, including the appropriate and reasonable level of reimbursement that should be required; total reimbursement will not be appropriate if the court determines that the cost of the private education was unreasonable. 

 

SYLLABUS

After respondent Shannon Carter, a student in petitioner public school district, was classified as learning disabled, school officials met with her parents to formulate an individualized education program (IEP), as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA or Act), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. Shannon's parents requested a hearing to challenge the proposed IEP's appropriateness. In the meantime, Shannon's parents enrolled her in Trident Academy, a private school specializing in educating children with disabilities. After the state and local educational authorities concluded  that the IEP was adequate, Shannon's parents filed this suit, claiming that the school dis-trict had breached its duty under IDEA to provide Shannon with a "free appropriate public education," § 1401(a)(18), and seeking reimbursement for tuition and other costs incurred at Trident. The District Court ruled in the parents' favor, holding that the proposed IEP violated IDEA, and that the education Shannon received at Trident was "appropriate" and in substantial compliance with IDEA's substantive requirements, even though the school did not comply with all of the Act's procedures. In affirming, the Court of Appeals rejected the school district's argument that reimbursement is never proper when the parents choose a private school that is not approved by the State or that does not comply with all of the requirements of § 1401(a)(18).

Held: A court may order reimbursement for parents who unilaterally withdraw their child from a public school that provides an inappropriate education under IDEA and put the child in a private school that provides an education that is otherwise proper under IDEA, but does not meet all of § 1401(a)(18)'s requirements. Pp. 12-16.

(a) In School Comm. of Burlington v. Department of Ed. of Mass., 471 U.S. 359, 369-370, 85 L. Ed. 2d 385, 105 S. Ct. 1996,  the Court recognized the right of parents who disagree with a proposed IEP to unilaterally withdraw their child from public school and place the child in private school, and held that IDEA's grant of equitable authority empowers a court to order school authorities retroactively to reimburse the parents if the court ultimately determines that the private placement, rather than the proposed IEP, is proper under the Act. P. 12.

(b) Trident's failure to meet § 1401(a)(18)'s definition of a "free appropriate public education" does not bar Shannon's parents from reimbursement, because the section's requirements cannot be read as applying to parental placements. The § 1401(a)(18) requirements that the education be "provided . . . under public supervision and direction," and that the IEP be designed by "a representative of the local educational agency" and "established," "revised," and "reviewed" by the agency, will never be met in the context of a parental placement. Therefore to read them as applying to parental placements would effectively eliminate the right of unilateral withdrawal recognized in Burlington, and would defeat IDEA's purpose of ensuring that children with  disabilities receive an education that is both appropriate and free. Similarly, the § 1401(a)(18)(B) requirement that the school meet the standards of the state educational agency does not apply to private parental placements. It would be inconsistent with the Act's goals to forbid parents to educate their child at a school that provides an appropriate education simply because that school lacks the stamp of approval of the same public school system that failed to meet the child's needs in the first place. Parents' failure to select a state-approved program in favor of an unapproved option does not itself bar reimbursement. Pp. 12-15.

(c) The school district's argument that allowing reimbursement for parents such as Shannon's puts an unreasonable burden on financially strapped local educational authorities is rejected. Reimburse-ment claims need not worry school officials who conform to IDEA's mandate to either give the child a free appropriate public education in a public setting, or place the child in an appropriate private setting of the State's choice. Moreover, parents who unilaterally change their child's placement during the pendency of IDEA review proceedings are entitled  to reimbursement only if a federal court concludes both that the public placement violated IDEA and that the private placement was proper under the Act. Finally, total reimbursement will not be appropriate if a court fashioning discretionary equitable relief under IDEA determines that the cost of the private education was unreasonable. Pp. 15-16. 

 

COUNSEL: Donald B. Ayer argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Beth Hei-fetz and Bruce E. Davis.

 

Peter W. D. Wright argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was Nancy C. McCormick.

 

Amy L. Wax argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. With her on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Acting Assistant Attorney General Schiffer, Deputy Solicitor General Wallace, William Kanter, and John P. Schnitker. *

 

*   Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the State of Arizona et al. by J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Attorney General of Maryland, and Andrew H. Baida and Joann Goedert, Assistant Attorneys General, and by the Attorneys General for their respective jurisdictions as follows: Grant Woods of Arizona, Michael J. Bowers of Georgia, Richard Ieyoub of Louisiana, Michael E. Carpenter of Maine, Joseph P. Mazurek of Montana, Robert J. Del Tufo of New Jersey, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Michael F. Easley of North Carolina, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Theodore R. Kulongoski of Oregon, T. Travis Medlock of South Carolina, Mark Barnett of South Dakota, Charles Burson of Tennessee, R. Paul Van Dam of Utah, Stephen D. Rosenthal of Virginia, and Joseph B. Meyer of Wyoming; for the National League of Cities et al. by Richard Ruda; and for the National School Boards Association et al. by August W. Steinhilber, Thomas A. Shannon, and Gwendolyn H. Gregory.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the National Head Injury Foundation, Inc., by Craig Denmead and Kevin M. Maloney; for the Learning Disability Association of America et al. by Mark S. Partin and Reed Martin; and for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill et al. by Steven Ney and Andrew S. Penn.

 

JUDGES: O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. 

 

OPINION BY: O'CONNOR

 

OPINION

 [*9]   [***290]   [**363]  JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

 [***LEdHR1A]  [1A] [***LEdHR2A]  [2A]The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA or Act), 84 Stat. 175, as amended, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. (1988 ed. and Supp. IV), requires States to provide disabled children with a "free appropriate public education," § 1401(a)(18). This case presents the question whether a court may order reimbursement for parents who unilaterally withdraw their child from a public school that provides an inappropriate education under IDEA and put the child in a private school that provides an education that is otherwise proper under IDEA, but does not meet all the requirements of § 1401(a)(18). We  [*10]  hold that the court may order such reimbursement,  and therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

I

Respondent Shannon Carter was classified as learning disabled in 1985, while a ninth grade stu-dent in a school operated by petitioner Florence County School District Four. School officials met with Shannon's parents to formulate an individualized education program (IEP) for Shannon, as required under IDEA.  20 U.S.C. §§ 1401(a)(18) and (20), 1414(a)(5) (1988 ed. and Supp. IV). The IEP provided that Shannon would stay in regular classes except for three periods of individualized instruction per week, and established specific goals in reading and mathematics of four months' progress for the entire school year. Shannon's parents were dissatisfied, and requested a hearing to challenge the appropriateness of the IEP. See § 1415(b)(2). Both the local educational officer and the state educational agency hearing officer rejected Shannon's parents' claim and concluded that the IEP was adequate. In the meantime, Shannon's parents had placed  [**364]  her in Trident Academy, a private school specializing in educating children with disabilities. Shannon began at Trident in September 1985 and graduated in the  spring of 1988.

Shannon's parents filed this suit in July 1986, claiming that the school district had breached its duty under IDEA to provide Shannon with a "free appropriate public education," § 1401(a)(18), and seeking reimbursement for tuition and other costs incurred at Trident. After a bench trial, the District Court ruled in the parents' favor. The court held that the school district's proposed  [***291]  educa-tional program and the achievement goals of the IEP "were wholly inadequate" and failed to satisfy the requirements of the Act. App. to Pet. for Cert. 27a. The court further held that "although [Trident Academy] did not comply with all of the procedures outlined in [IDEA]," the school "provided Shannon an excellent  [*11]  education in substantial compliance with all the substantive requirements" of the statute. Id., at 37a. The court found that Trident "evaluated Shannon quarterly, not yearly as mandated in [IDEA], it provided Shannon with low teacher-student ratios, and it developed a plan which allowed Shannon to receive passing marks and progress from grade to grade." Ibid. The court also credited the findings of its own expert, who determined that Shannon had made "significant  progress" at Trident and that her reading comprehension had risen three grade levels in her three years at the school. Id., at 29a. The District Court concluded that Shannon's education was "appropriate" under IDEA, and that Shannon's parents were entitled to reimbursement of tuition and other costs. Id., at 37a.

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed.  950 F.2d 156 (1991). The court agreed that the IEP proposed by the school district was inappropriate under IDEA. It also rejected the school district's argument that reimbursement is never proper when the parents choose a private school that is not approved by the State or that does not comply with all the terms of IDEA. According to the Court of Appeals, neither the text of the Act nor its legislative history imposes a "requirement that the private school be approved by the state in parent-placement reimbursement cases." Id., at 162. To the contrary, the Court of Appeals concluded, IDEA's state-approval requirement applies only when a child is placed in a private school by public school officials. Accordingly, "when a public school system has defaulted  on its obligations under the Act, a private school placement is 'proper under the Act' if the education provided by the private school is 'reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits.'" Id., at 163, quoting Board of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist., Westchester Cty. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 207, 73 L. Ed. 2d 690, 102 S. Ct. 3034 (1982).

The court below recognized that its holding conflicted with Tucker v. Bay Shore Union Free School Dist., 873 F.2d 563, 568  [*12]  (1989), in which the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that parental placement in a private school cannot be proper under the Act unless the private school in question meets the standards of the state education agency. We granted certiorari, 507 U.S. 907 (1993), to resolve this conflict among the Courts of Appeals.

II

In School Comm. of Burlington v. Department of Ed. of Mass., 471 U.S. 359, 369, 85 L. Ed. 2d 385, 105 S. Ct. 1996 (1985), we held that IDEA's grant of equitable authority empowers a court "to order school authorities to reimburse parents for their expenditures on private special education for a child if the court  ultimately determines that such placement, rather than a proposed IEP, is proper under the Act." Congress intended that IDEA's promise of a  [***292]  "free appropriate public education" for disabled children would normally be met by an IEP's provision for education in the regular public schools or in private schools chosen jointly by school officials and parents. In cases where cooperation fails, however, "parents who disagree  [**365]  with the proposed IEP are faced with a choice: go along with the IEP to the detriment of their child if it turns out to be inappropriate or pay for what they consider to be the appropriate placement." Id., at 370. For parents willing and able to make the latter choice, "it would be an empty victory to have a court tell them several years later that they were right but that these expenditures could not in a proper case be reimbursed by the school officials." Ibid. Because such a result would be contrary to IDEA's guarantee of a "free appropriate public education," we held that "Congress meant to include retroactive reimbursement to parents as an available remedy in a proper case." Ibid.

 

 [***LEdHR1B]  [1B] [***LEdHR2B] [2B]As this case comes to us, two issues are settled:  (1) the school district's proposed IEP was inappropriate under IDEA, and (2) although Trident did not meet the § 1401(a)(18) requirements, it provided an education otherwise  [*13]  proper under IDEA. This case presents the narrow question whether Shannon's parents are barred from reimbursement because the private school in which Shannon enrolled did not meet the § 1401(a)(18) definition of a "free appropriate public education." * We hold that they are not, because § 1401(a)(18)'s requirements can-not be read as applying to parental placements.

 

*   Section 1401(a)(18) defines "free appropriate public education" as "special education and related services that --

"(A) have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge,

"(B) meet the standards of the State educational agency,

"(C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary, or secondary school education in the State involved, and

"(D) are provided in conformity with the individualized education program . . . ."

Section 1401(a)(18)(A)  requires that the education be "provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction." Similarly, § 1401(a)(18)(D) requires schools to provide an IEP, which must be designed by "a representative of the local educational agency," 20 U.S.C. § 1401(a)(20) (1988 ed., Supp. IV), and must be "established," "revised," and "reviewed" by the agency, § 1414(a)(5). These requirements do not make sense in the context of a parental placement. In this case, as in all Burlington reimbursement cases, the parents' rejection of the school district's proposed IEP is the very reason for the parents' decision to put their child in a private school. In such cases, where the private placement has necessarily been made over the school district's objection, the private school education will not be under "public supervision and direction." Accordingly, to read the § 1401(a)(18) requirements as applying to parental placements would effectively eliminate the right of unilateral withdrawal recognized in Burlington. Moreover, IDEA was intended to ensure that children with disabilities receive an education that is both appropriate and free. Burlington,  supra, at 373.  [***293]  To read the provisions of § 1401(a)(18) to bar  [*14]  reimbursement in the circumstances of this case would defeat this statutory purpose.

Nor do we believe that reimbursement is necessarily barred by a private school's failure to meet state education standards. Trident's deficiencies, according to the school district, were that it employed at least two faculty members who were not state certified and that it did not develop IEP's. As we have noted, however, the § 1401(a)(18) requirements -- including the requirement that the school meet the standards of the state educational agency, § 1401(a) (18)(B) -- do not apply to private parental placements. Indeed, the school district's emphasis on state standards is somewhat ironic. As the Court of Appeals noted, "it hardly seems consistent with the Act's goals to forbid parents from educating their child at a school that provides an appropriate education simply because that school lacks the stamp of approval of the same public school system that failed to meet the child's needs in the first place." 950 F.2d at 164.  [**366]  Accordingly, we disagree with the Second Circuit's theory that "a parent may not obtain  reimbursement for a unilateral placement if that placement was in a school that was not on [the State's] approved list of private" schools.  Tucker, 873 F.2d at 568 (internal quotation marks omitted). Parents' failure to select a program known to be approved by the State in favor of an unapproved option is not itself a bar to reimbursement.

Furthermore, although the absence of an approved list of private schools is not essential to our holding, we note that parents in the position of Shannon's have no way of knowing at the time they select a private school whether the school meets state standards. South Carolina keeps no publicly available list of approved private schools, but instead approves private school placements on a case-by-case basis. In fact, although public school officials had previously placed three children with disabilities at Trident, see App. to Pet. for Cert. 28a, Trident had not received blanket approval from  [*15]  the State. South Carolina's case-by-case approval system meant that Shannon's parents needed the cooperation of state officials before they could know whether Trident was state approved. As we recognized in Burlington, such  cooperation is unlikely in cases where the school officials disagree with the need for the private placement. 471 U.S. at 372.

III

 

 [***LEdHR1C]  [1C] [***LEdHR2C] [2C]The school district also claims that allowing reimburse-ment for parents such as Shannon's puts an unreasonable burden on financially strapped local educa-tional authorities. The school district argues that requiring parents to choose a state-approved private school if they want reimbursement is the only meaningful way to allow States to control costs; otherwise States will have to reimburse dissatisfied parents for any private school that provides an education that is proper under the Act, no matter how expensive it may be.

 

 [***LEdHR2D]  [2D] [***LEdHR3] [3]There is no doubt that Congress has imposed a significant financial burden on States and school districts that participate in IDEA. Yet public educational authori-ties who want to avoid reimbursing  [***294]  parents for the private education of a disabled child can do one of two things: give the child a free appropriate public education in a public setting, or place the child in an appropriate private setting of the State's choice. This is IDEA's mandate, and school officials who conform to it need not worry about reimbursement  claims.

 

 [***LEdHR1D]  [1D] [***LEdHR2E] [2E] [***LEdHR4] [4]Moreover, parents who, like Shannon's, "unilaterally change their child's placement during the pendency of review proceedings, without the consent of state or local school officials, do so at their own financial risk." Burlington, supra, at 373-374.They are entitled to reimbursement only if a federal court concludes both that the public placement violated IDEA and that the private school placement was proper under the Act.

Finally, we note that once a court holds that the public placement violated IDEA, it is authorized to "grant such  [*16]  relief as the court determines is appropriate." 20 U.S.C. § 1415(e)(2). Under this provision, "equitable considerations are relevant in fashioning relief," Burlington, 471 U.S. at 374, and the court enjoys "broad discretion" in so doing, id., at 369. Courts fashioning discretionary equitable relief under IDEA must consider all relevant factors, including the appropriate and reasonable level of reimbursement that should be required. Total reimbursement will not be appropriate if the court determines that the cost of the private  education was unreasonable.

Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

So ordered. 

 

REFERENCES

 

 

 

Parents' remedies, under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provisions (20 USCS 1415(e)(2) and 1415(e)(3)), for school officials' failure to provide free appropriate public education for child with disability--Supreme Court cases

 

15 Am Jur 2d, Civil Rights 92.5; 68 Am Jur 2d, Schools 323-335

 

17 Federal Procedure, L Ed, Health, Education, and Welfare 42:1656, 42:1669-42:1677

 

5 Federal Procedural Forms, L Ed, Civil Rights 10:446, 10:449

 

22 Am Jur Pl & Pr Forms (Rev), Schools, Form 193

 

20 USCS 1400 et seq.

 

Americans with Disabilities: Practice and Compliance Manual 11:57, 11:117

 

L Ed Digest, Schools 10

 

L Ed Index, Education of Handicapped Act; Private or Parochial Schools

 

ALR Index, Private and Parochial Schools; Reimbursement; Schools and Education

 

               Annotation References:

 

Construction of "stay-put" provision of Education of the Handicapped Act (20 USCS 1415(e)(3)), that handicapped child shall remain in current educational placement pending proceedings conducted under section.  103 ALR Fed 120.

 

What services must federally assisted school provide for handicapped children under Education of the Handicapped Act (20 USCS 1401 et seq.).  63 ALR Fed 856.

 

Validity of, and sufficiency of compliance with, state standards for approval of private school to receive public placements of students or reimbursement for their educational costs.  48 ALR4th 1231.

 

Requisite conditions and appropriate factors affecting educational placement of handicapped children.  23 ALR4th 740.

 

Pennsylvania and Delaware Special Education attorney serving Wilmington, Delaware and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

 

In Wilmington Delaware and New Castle County and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania