The National School Boards Association recently invited Thrun Law Firm attorneys to write an amicus or “friend of the court” brief (a brief filed by a non-party that has an interest in the case) in a special education case likely to impact schools nationwide. The case, L.H. v Hamilton Co Dep’t of Ed, Docket No 1:14-CV-1126 (2016), is currently on appeal to the Sixth Circuit – whose decisions are binding on Michigan schools.
The case involves the appropriate placement for a 13-year-old student with Down syndrome in a Tennessee school district. The student, L.H., was educated in the general education classroom through second grade and received “pull-out” and “push-in” services with a special education teacher, occupational therapy, and speech services, and had a full-time aide. At the parents’ insistence, L.H.’s goals were closely tied to the general education curriculum. L.H. struggled, making minimal progress on his goals. The IEP team reconvened and placed L.H. in a center-based program for third grade. L.H.’s parents rejected the IEP and enrolled him in a private Montessori school.
L.H.’s parents sued the district for reimbursement for the cost of the private school. The district argued that its proposed placement was appropriate and, therefore, it should not be responsible for the cost of the private placement. The trial court ruled that the parents would not be reimbursed for the private placement but also found that the proposed placement in the center-based program violated the IDEA’s least restrictive environment (LRE) provisions. The court’s ruling placed more importance on LRE than on ensuring a free appropriate public education for the student – a significant departure from current practice and established law.
The district appealed the trial court’s ruling that the proposed placement was not the LRE. The NSBA determined that the potential impact of the case merited an amicus brief.
The NSBA asked Thrun Law Firm to draft the brief, an invitation that we accepted. Because of our extensive work in special education matters throughout Michigan and the potential impact of this case on our clients, we determined that this issue, although currently limited to Tennessee, should be addressed on our clients’ behalf. We will keep our clients apprised of the case’s outcome and its impact on Michigan schools.