Parents of special education students can seek reimbursement from school districts for private educational placements whether or not the student tried public school first, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The decision comes in the case of Forest Grove School District v. T.A. The case centers on an Oregon teen who attended public school for years, but was not diagnosed with a disability until his parents enrolled him in a private placement. The teen’s parents later sought reimbursement from the school district even though the boy had never been enrolled in special education within the school district.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate education (FAPE) until age 22. It has long been held that parents could seek reimbursement for private placements if a child’s needs could not be met by the school district. But schools have argued that parents must first give public education a try.

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The court’s 6-3 ruling Monday in favor of the teen and his family found that not to be the case.

“We conclude that IDEA authorizes reimbursement for the cost of private special education services when a school district fails to provide a FAPE and the private school placement is appropriate, regardless of whether the child previously received special education or related services through the public school,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the majority opinion.

Two years ago the Supreme Court heard a similar case, but failed to render a decision when Justice Anthony M. Kennedy recused himself and the other justices were evenly divided.

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