School Law Bulletin #2004/04

Compensatory Education and the IDEA

Thursday, April 1, 2004

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees every child with a disability who needs special educa- tion a free appropriate public education (FAPE) that includes special education and related services. In addition, IDEA provides the parents of children with disabilities a series of procedural protections to ensure their participation in educational decisions—including rights of appeal to state administrative agencies and state and federal courts.

The Act contains detailed provisions for many of these substantive and procedural protections, but it is less specific about relief measures. For example, when a parent files suit for an IDEA violation in federal court, the act directs the court to consider the evidence and “grant such relief as the court determines is appropriate.” This imprecise statutory language gives the courts broad discretion to establish suit- able remedies for violations. One commonly sought form of relief under IDEA is compensatory education, which requires a school board to provide a child with appropriate educational services to compensate for its past failure to provide a FAPE. Requested forms of compensatory education may include physical and occupational therapy, summer educational services, tutoring, and small group instruction. This article discusses the statutory and judicial background for compensa- tory education and the evolution of compensatory education as a remedy in the Fourth Circuit.

Public Officials - Local and State Government Roles