Friday, January 21, 2011

What's In a Name?

There are a number of names tossed around in the world of education, especially when it comes to getting educational services for children from public schools. These generally come from court cases, where the name of a party becomes a shorthand way of referring to the rights that a particular court decision created.

For example, parents who are seeking to place their children in private schools because their child's public school cannot offer him or her an appropriate education, can seek to have their tuition payments reimbursed from their public school. This is referred to as "Carter funding", from a United States Supreme Court case, Carter vs. Florence County School District. In that 1991 case the Supreme Court determined that Shannon Carter's parents were entitled to reimbursement of tuition and expenses for placing her in a school that had an appropriate program to help with Shannon's learning disability, when the local public school had failed to provide an appropriate program. Although this right to reimbursement has since been included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the process for seeking such reimbursement is still referred to as a Carter case or Carter funding.

In addition, at least in New York and in limited circumstances, where parents are unable to lay out the cost of private school tuition and await reimbursement, they may be entitled to have the private school receive direct payment from the public school system. This right is discussed in the case Connors v. Mills, where the Federal District Court noted that to decide otherwise would mean that "... a destitute child would be left in an inappropriate program because the parents would not be able to front the tuition of private placement." Connors funding is more limited than Carter funding, but parents should still be familiar with the term.

Another court case that is referred to as a shortcut name in the education field is Gebser. Parents may hear the term "Gebser letter". What is this? The 1998 United States Supreme Court case Gebser vs. Lago Vista Independent School District dealt with harassment claims. The Supreme Court noted that a school district could not be responsibile for its response to bullying or harassment claims unless it had notice that this kind of activity was taking place. As a result of this decision, parents whose children have been subject to such forms of discrimination have been advised to send their school a Gebser Letter, putting the school on notice about the problem.

Finally, in New York City, families may be given a Nickerson Letter (see page 30 of the linked document). This remedy grew out of a decision by Federal Judge Eugene Nickerson in the late 1970s. This document is given to families whose child has been approved for a special education setting but who has not been given a timely placement in such setting. In theory, it allows parents to enroll their child in any approved non-public school and have the tuition payed directly by New York City's Department of Education. In practice, however, it often achieves nothing, since the schools are usually full and are not required to take a student if they do not have room.

The name game in education can be confusing, and we hope this gives you a better sense of what some of these names mean.

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