The nation’s school district leaders are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on who should pay for a child’s private school tuition while special education disputes are litigated.

Currently, school districts are responsible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s “stay-put” provision for paying for a student to remain in their existing educational placement while parents and schools sort out disputes related to the child’s special education services.

Now, however, the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, the National School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association say that schools should be relieved of the responsibility to foot the bill for private school placements once a court finds in a district’s favor.

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At issue is a case known as M.R. v. Ridley School District. Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia determined that the Ridley School District in suburban Philadelphia was responsible for private school tuition for a child known in court papers as E.R. while the child’s family continued to appeal their dispute even though a lower court found in favor of the district.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed this week, the education groups are asking the Supreme Court to review the case, arguing that the obligation of districts to keep paying tuition “creates a perverse incentive for parents to prolong appeals simply to reap the benefit of private school tuition funded by public dollars.”

“IDEA requires school districts to provide a child with disabilities a free appropriate public education, not to fund the parents’ preferred private placement,” said Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. of the National School Boards Association in a statement. “Once a district court determines that a school district has provided FAPE, its obligation to pay for the stay-put placement should end.”

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