This week, a divided Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision requiring New York City to pay for private school for a child with learning disabilities. The child had never attended public school. In addition, the child is the son of Tom Freston, former chief executive of Viacom, who got a roughly $85 million severance package. In other words, this is a case about principle, not the actual educational options a child will face. But as such, it could be a win for gifted education -- maybe.
You can read an article about the case here. In essence, the ruling means that parents do not need to first put a child in an educational situation they consider inappropriate before they file for tuition reimbursement at a private school. States pay private school tuition for thousands of disabled children across the country. Sometimes these payments are as high as $50,000 for children who require residential treatment. Others attend private schools that are focused on specific disabilities such as autism or blindness. New York's position was that the public schools should at least be able to try to serve these children before the parents enroll them in private schools. By letting the ruling stand, the Supreme Court is saying that's not the case. If parents don't think the public schools can meet their children's needs, the kids do not need to fail first in order to go elsewhere.
Freston does not actually need the money to pay for his son's private school tuition. Indeed he has donated all his tuition reimbursement money to public school tutoring programs. He has fought the case so other parents without $85 million good-bye gifts from Viacom can have the same opportunities. (Though interestingly enough, the New York City schools offered Freston's son a spot in the city's Lower Laboratory School for Gifted Education - in many cities, such options don't even exist).
I certainly don't begrudge children with disabilities the opportunity to attend whatever school serves them best at public expense. But when I read about some of the dollar amounts involved, it makes me a little sad that most profoundly gifted kids -- who have special needs whether they have other disabilities or not -- are often stuck in whatever regular school happens to be nearby. Some could be best served by boarding schools elsewhere, or private schools in town, but their families can't afford it. Sometimes parents have sought disability dignoses solely to qualify for special education programs that can help.
In states with gifted education mandates, this case could possibly open the door for some families who have chosen private schools over inadequate public school options to file for tuition reimbursement. It may or may not work. But the door is slightly ajar.