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Court Rules On Sending Handicapped Boston Child to Private School

April 29, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court ruled today that public school officials may be forced to reimburse private school costs for parents who decide on their own to transfer their handicapped child from public school.

In a 9-0 decision in a case from Burlington, Mass., the court said public school officials must pay when courts later determine that the transfer was appropriate.

Justice William H. Rehnquist, writing for the court, said, ″Parents who unilaterally change their child’s placement ... without the consent of state or local officials do so at their own financial risk.″

Rehnquist said that if the courts ultimately decide that the public school officials had placed the child in an appropriate program the parents could not be reimbursed.

But, he said, the federal Education of the Handicapped Act ″was intended to give handicapped children both an appropriate education and a free one.″ Parents who transfer their children on their own are entitled to reimbursement if the courts decide ultimately the private school program is better for the child.

Today’s ruling upheld a lower court decision in favor of the parents of Michael Panico, who has a reading disability.

In 1979, the Panicos transferred Michael, then 8, from public school in Burlington to the Carroll School, a private school in Lincoln, Mass.

The Panicos said the private school was better equiped to help Michael overcome his disability.

Burlington school officials had planned to enroll Michael that year in a special education classroom in the Pine Glen public school.

Burlington school officials said allowing parents to transfer handicapped children on their own to private schools could ″bankrupt″ the school system. They noted that private schools cost from $8,000 to $12,000 a year.

The Panicos claimed they could not afford private school on their own and said they should not be penalized for moving Michael to an appropriate private school.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the Panicos are entitled to reimbursement for all tuition and school costs if a trial court eventually rules that the couple made the appropriate decision in transferring Michael to the Carroll School.

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