WASHINGTON – A U.S. District Court has been ordered to reconsider the case of a disabled Baltimore teen whose parents had sought tuition reimbursement after the city failed to provide him with appropriate schooling.
In a decision reached Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said the District Court failed to consider a 1990 federal law when it ruled that the state of Maryland was not liable.
“States are going to have to be more active to ensure that local school districts are complying with federal requirements,” said the family’s attorney, Gary Peller, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.
Peller noted the decision marked the first clear interpretation of the statute in relation to a state’s responsibility.
Carol and John Gadsby in May 1993 asked the Baltimore City Public School system to evaluate their son, Eric Gadsby, and provide him with a free and individualized educational program for the 1993-’94 school year, as required by state law. Eric, now 17, has a learning disability.
But court records show the school system did not develop a plan for Eric until October 1993. By that time, the Gadsbys had already enrolled him in a private residential school in Connecticut for his 9th grade year.
Eric had been attending private schools up to that time.
When the Gadsbys complained to the Baltimore school system, it agreed to pay about 40 percent of the $28,500 private school tuition and to seek the remaining amount from the state, Peller and school officials said. Forty percent amounts to $11,400.
The state refused to pay the remainder, however, stating the city school system was at fault for failing to provide the educational plan, court records show.
In March 1995, the Gadsbys sued the Maryland State Department of Education for the remaining tuition. They lost. The District Court found that the family and school system had agreed on reimbursement terms without allowing the state an opportunity to review them, as required by state law.
On appeal, the Fourth Circuit Court said the lower court overlooked a federal statute designed to ensure the proper education of disabled students. The federal law says states must supervise local agencies and may be held liable along with them if they fail to provide adequate education.
The case was sent back Friday to the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, which will determine how much reimbursement, if any, the state should pay. JoAnn Goedert, assistant attorney general for Maryland, said because the local school district was negligent, it is not likely the state will have to pay. -30-