Florence County School District Four v. Carter

PETITIONER: Florence County School District Four
LOCATION: Kiryas Joel Village School District

DOCKET NO.: 91-1523
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 510 US 7 (1993)
ARGUED: Oct 06, 1993
DECIDED: Nov 09, 1993

Amy L. Wax - on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae supporting Respondent
Donald B. Ayer - on behalf of the Petitioners
Peter W. D. Wright - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

After Shannon Carter was classified as a learning disabled student, school officials met with her parents to formulate an individualized education program (IEP) as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Unhappy with the IEP developed by the school district, Shannon's parents challenged its appropriateness and enrolled her in a private school while their challenge was pending.

When state and local educational authorities concluded that the IEP was adequate, Shannon's parents sued in Federal District Court, claiming the school district had failed to provide a "free appropriate public education" as required by IDEA and demanding reimbursement for Shannon's education at the private school. The school district argued that the private school did not meet all the requirements of IDEA and therefore did not meet the "appropriate" standard. Because of it was not "appropriate," the school district argued, reimbursement was not required.

The District Court and the Fourth Circuit of Appeals both ruled against the school district, requiring it to reimburse Shannon's parents.


May a court order reimbursement for parents who withdrew their child from a public school providing an inappropriate education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and put the child in a private school that is in substantial - but not complete - compliance with the act?

Media for Florence County School District Four v. Carter

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 06, 1993 in Florence County School District Four v. Carter

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 91-1523, the Florence County School District Four v. Shannon Carter, et al. Mr. Ayer.

Donald B. Ayer:

Thank you, Your Honor.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

In the Burlington decision, this Court recognized that one of the judicial remedies available for a school district's failure to provide an education meeting the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is reimbursement of the child's parents for the cost of removing their child from the public school and putting he or she into a private school that provides an education that is proper under the act.

The Court in Burlington explained that conclusion in part on the ground that where parents select a private school placement that is found to be "proper under the act" the award of such reimbursement does nothing more than pay the parents the cost that should have been paid initially by the public school for the placement that should have been provided in the first place.

The issue presented in this case is whether, as the court below held, this right to reimbursement under Burlington arises wherever the private placement selected by the parents ultimately proves to be beneficial to the child, or rather, whether such placements are constrained, as are all other placements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by the obligation to provide a free appropriate public education, which is defined precisely and specifically in the act.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, Mr. Ayers, the... it's defined, I guess, in section 1401?

Donald B. Ayer:

1401(a)(18), Your Honor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Do you think that that provision is applicable at all to private placements?

It seems to--

Donald B. Ayer:

Well, Your Honor--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--cover, really, State placements--

Donald B. Ayer:

--I think the place--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--or State provision of--

Donald B. Ayer:

--The place to begin in thinking about it is with the initial section of the act, which states the purpose of the act, and it states that purpose very explicitly in terms of assuring that all children with disabilities will have available to them a free, appropriate public education.

That is the overriding, the primary purpose.

The Court recognized that in Burlington.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--Well, okay.

I recognize that, and I'd like you to tell us, if you will, where in the statute specifically it covers private placement, or whether this is just something by way of a remedy that the courts have developed under the act.

Donald B. Ayer:

Well, the statute does not explicitly provide for the Burlington remedy, either, and so the fact that there is a remedy there is something that is recognized as necessary to accomplish the purposes of the act, so I can't point to something specifically that limits a remedy that is not explicitly dealt with in the statute.

What I think I can do--

Antonin Scalia:

--than that.

If you insist upon free, appropriate public education, there's no private placement.

Donald B. Ayer:

--Well, I would disagree with that.

Antonin Scalia:

The only thing you can do is to send the person to a public school.

Wouldn't that have to be your position?

Donald B. Ayer:

Well, the public aspect I think has two parts within the definition, one is that it be a public expense, and that is certainly possible, and the other... well, there's three, I guess.

The other is that it... one other is that it meets State standards.

That's at dispute in this case.

And then the third is that it be under public supervision.