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Supreme Court to Weigh Education Law, More in New Session

The U.S. Supreme Court opened its new term Monday with a docket that includes cases on reimbursement for private education, election law and the rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees. The National Law Journal's Marcia Coyle previews the term and potential challenges for the court.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Opening day of a new term of the U.S. Supreme Court. NewsHour regular Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal was in the courtroom.

    Marcia, welcome.

  • MARCIA COYLE, National Law Journal:

    Thank you, Jim.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Let’s go through the two cases today that were argued. First there was a special education course. What are the facts?

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    OK. This involved the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, a federal law that guarantees children with disabilities a free and appropriate education. The question here is, must school districts reimburse parents of disabled children for the cost of a private education if the parents have not tried and the school is willing to provide the services that the child needs?

    The law is somewhat ambiguous. The school district here — it’s New York City — is saying, no, you have to try the public school first. The parents of the child involved here is saying, no, the law guarantees this free and appropriate education, and we feel our child is best served in the private school.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now the arguments — what were the two sides saying before the court today?

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Basically, as I said, it’s a statutory interpretation case, so they’re honing in on certain language in the statute as to what is required in order for parents to get reimbursed for private services.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And in a nutshell, the plaintiffs in this case, the parents of the student, claim that they don’t have to go to this public school. They decided before going to the public school that the private school was the best for the child, right?

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Exactly. And they also say that they really did try the public schools in one sense. The child was evaluated at one point and provided an IEP plan, an individualized education plan. But the child never actually was in the public school system.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Just for factual reasons, what was the disability of the child in this particular case?

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Multiple learning disabilities. And, apparently, the child is now out of the private school setting and has been mainstreamed into the public school system.

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