NEW YORK, N.Y. (June 23, 2009) – Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization, applauded the United States Supreme Court decision yesterday in Forest Grove v. T.A in which the Court held, in a 6-3 vote, that “IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) authorizes reimbursement for the cost of private special education services when a school district fails to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education and the private school placement is appropriate, regardless of whether the child previously received special education or related services through the public school.” The Court's decision means that parents have the right to sue without having to first “try out” the district's program of services for their child.
Autism Speaks, through its Federal Legal Appeals Project (FLAP), filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court to explain why a contrary result would have prejudiced the autism community. Autism Speaks Board Member Gary Mayerson, director of FLAP, filed the amicus brief together with Robert Pees and other attorneys with the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP.
“Children with autism cannot afford to waste valuable time in inadequate or otherwise inappropriate programs,” said Mayerson. “The High Court's decision recognizes the importance of timely judicial access to achieve the remedial purposes of IDEA.”
Justice Stevens wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer and Alito. Justice Souter, who recently announced his retirement from the bench, filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas. In light of the high court's 4-4 decision in the Tom F. case just two years ago, some legal commentators had predicted a much closer result.
The school district in Forest Grove failed to offer the student an Individualized Education Program (IEP), but argued that fact was irrelevant. The school district argued that because the student had never received special education services from the district the student's parents lacked standing to sue under IDEA. The court rejected the school district's argument as unavailing, relying upon the “remedial purpose” of the statute, and reasoning that parents already have a heavy evidentiary burden to prove when they assume the risk of a private placement. Moreover, the court pointed out that “a school district's failure to propose an IEP of any kind is at least as serious a violation of its responsibilities under IDEA as a failure to provide an adequate IEP.”
Furthermore, the court rejected as unfounded the school district's fear that schools districts will suffer financial hardship if parental standing is not restricted to those situations where the student has already received and “tried out” the school district's offerings.
Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by behavioral challenges. Autism spectrum disorders are diagnosed in one in 150 children in the United States, affecting four times as many boys as girls. The prevalence of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.
About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism Speaks funds more than $30 million each year in new autism research, in addition to supporting the Autism Treatment Network, Autism Genetic Resource Exchange, Autism Clinical Trials Network, Autism Tissue Program and a range of other scientific and medical programs. Notable awareness initiatives include the establishment of the annual United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 and an award-winning, multi-year national public service advertising campaign with the Ad Council. Autism Speaks' family services efforts include the Autism Video Glossary, a 100 Day Kit for newly-diagnosed families, a School Community Tool Kit and the distribution of community grants to local service providers. Its government relations department, through its Autism Votes initiative, has played a critical role in securing federal legislation to advance the federal government's response to autism, and has successfully advocated for insurance reform to require insurers to cover medically-necessary autism therapies. Each year, Autism Speaks Walk Now for Autism fundraising events are held in more than 70 cities across the country, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.
About the Co-Founders
Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Senior Advisor at Lee Equity Partners and served as vice chairman, General Electric, and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal for more than twenty years. He also serves on the board of directors of the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation and RAND Corporation. Suzanne Wright has an extensive history of active involvement in community and philanthropic endeavors, mostly directed toward helping children. She serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations and is also Trustee Emeritus of Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.