Skip navigation

Calls to Action

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Case Regarding Parents' Rights in IEP Process

Autism Speaks, through Its Federal Legal Appeals Project (FLAP), Files Amicus Brief in the

WASHINGTON, DC (October 1, 2007) -- The Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in the Board of Education of City of New York v. Tom F., 06-637.The issue under consideration by the high court concerns a parent's statutory right to challenge a school district's Individualized Education Plan (IEP). According to the New York City Department of Education, even if the child's IEP is demonstrably inappropriate, a parent should not have standing to challenge their child's IEP unless the parent has first “tried out” the school district's IEP.

Autism Speaks filed an amicus brief in the case, focusing on the critical nature of early intervention for children with autism. The brief explains why parents of children with autism should not be forced to “try out” demonstrably inappropriate and ineffective IEP programs during what may well be a relatively narrow window of opportunity.

"The danger of making parents try out the school district's program first, even if it's not an appropriate program, is that students who need early intervention waste critical time," said Gary Mayerson, an Autism Speaks board member and founder of law firm Mayerson & Associates. "If my child can't swim, and the school district's plan is to throw him in the deep end of the pool, I shouldn't have to allow my child to drown to prove that the district's plan is ridiculous."

Leonard Koerner, chief appeals lawyer for New York City, said parents should be required to give the public system a shot, even if only a brief one, before they can appeal for an outside placement.

The Supreme Court is expected to deliver its decision in the case in about six weeks. Read more about the case from The Wall Street Journal. Read a transcript of the oral arguments(PDF).

The Autism Speaks Federal Legal Appeals Project is a national pro bono initiative assembled and directed by Mayerson for Autism Speaks. To date, approximately ten national profile law firms, including Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, have joined the FLAP committee with commitments to provide significant pro bono legal services at the federal level. Akin Gump attorneys Robert H. Pees, Michael D. Lockard, Amanda R. Johnson, Sunish Gulati and Evandro C. Gigante prepared the amicus brief in the Tom F case.

Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by extreme 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 diagnosis 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.

Autism Speaks is dedicated to increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders, to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure for autism, and to advocating for the needs of affected families. It was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Vice Chairman, General Electric, and served as chief executive officer of NBC for more than twenty years. Autism Speaks has merged with both the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) and Cure Autism Now (CAN), bringing together the nation's three leading autism advocacy organizations. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit