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Supreme Court on IDEA: Winning Parents Not Entitled To Expert Witness Costs
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 28, 2006

WASHINGTON, DC--In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act does not authorize courts to force schools to reimburse the costs of expert witnesses when parents win lawsuits over their children's special education.

Justice Samuel Alito, the newest member of the court, wrote for the majority that the IDEA "does not even hint" that states are responsible for covering costs of experts when parents prevail.

The case concerned 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" as required under the federal law.

After the Murphys won the case, they asked a district court to order the school district to pay the $29,350 they spent 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.

Arlington appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, which in March 2004 sided with the Murphys, agreeing that the IDEA calls for parties who win special education suits 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 argued 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.

Justices Stephen Breyer, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter disagreed with Monday's majority opinion. In writing the dissenting opinion, Justice Breyer said that, while the IDEA does not "define its own scope" of what costs prevailing parties are entitled to, members of Congress said when they drafted the law that they intended those costs to include "reasonable expenses of expert witnesses and reasonable costs of any test or evaluation which is found to be necessary for the preparation of the parent or guardian's case in the action or proceeding."

Breyer wrote: "I can find no good reason for this court to interpret the language of this statute as meaning the precise opposite of what Congress told us it intended."

"Arlington Central School Dist. Bd. of Ed. v. Murphy" (U.S. Supreme Court)

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