Florence County School Dist. Four v. Carter, 510 U.S. 7 (1993)

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OCTOBER TERM, 1993

Syllabus

FLORENCE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT FOUR et al. v. CARTER, a minor, by and through her father and next friend, CARTER

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fourth circuit

No. 91-1523. Argued October 6, 1993—Decided November 9, 1993

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 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. 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, 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 deter-

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