Thursday, July 2, 2009

New Supreme Court Decision- Part IV (Hearing Officer Authority)

Those of you who follow this blog know that I was concerned about the school district's argument that hearing officers lacked authority to grant reimbursement. I had never heard this argument made before. NOTE: I have a bias here, I am a due process hearing officer for a growing number of states and I train hearing officers across the country. A few commentators have dismissed this issue as a "nonstarter," but at least three justices asked questions concerning the argument at the oral argument. Maybe others gave this argument little attention, but believe me, hearing officers were taking it seriously.

As my preliminary analysis noted the supremes specifically noted at page 17 of the slip opinion that both hearing officers and courts have the authority to grant reimbursement for un

United States Supreme CourtImage by onecle via Flickr

unilateral placements in proper circumstances. The Court explained its reasoning in footnote 11 on page 13 of the majority opinion.

Specifically, the Court ruled that the district's argument concerning hearing authority ignores the Burlington decision. The high court stated that the Burlington decision interpreted IDEA "... to authorize hearing officers as well as courts to award reimbursement notwithstanding ...(Section 615's) silence with regard to haring officers." n. 11, Slip Op at p. 13. The opinion goes on to state that by amending IDEA without altering the text of the section, Congress implicitly adopted the Supreme Court's construction of the statute regarding hearing officer authority to award reimbursement.

Forest Grove Sch Dist v TA 557 U.S. ____, 109 LRP 36046 (6/22/2009) is an important decision for hearing officers to cite in their decisions. It is clear that this decision reiterates the ruling of Burlington that hearing officers ,like courts, have broad equitable discretion to award an appropriate remedy where there has been a violation of IDEA.

here are some additional resources: First, a couple editorials applauding the ruling: St. Louis Dispatch and Boston Globe. The SCOTUS blog resource page concerning this case includes analysis, briefs by the parties, amicus briefs and a transcript of the oral argument at the high court. A law review article written before the decision discusses some policy concerns can be found here. This link has three perspectives on the ruling.


  1. Jim,
    Was thinking about Forest Grove recently. I wonder what happens when a student that was in special education in one state (and everyone agrees was being well served) moves to another state? Is this considered a child who has not previously been enrolled?

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