When children with disabilities are placed by the State in a group home outside their community, disputes often arise over financial responsibility for the cost of educating those children. Can the school district of the parent’s residence terminate the educational program and funding for the child? What happens if the parents relocate out-of-state? And can the district hold the parents liable for the cost of educating these children?
A March 5, 2013, ruling by the NJ Education Commissioner addresses these recurring problems. The ruling ensures that the child’s education will not be disrupted and that parents cannot be held liable for the cost of educating their child.
Commissioner Chris Cerf’s Final Decision confirms that a school district must obtain a new district of residency determination from the NJ Department of Education prior to terminating its financial responsibility for a student in a group home. The Commissioner upheld the Administrative Law Judge’s determination that the district in this case had failed to comply with relevant state regulations and had improperly pursued tuition reimbursement from the student’s parent.
In this case, a child with multiple disabilities was placed in a group home by a state agency and was determined to require educational services in a state-approved private school serving students with disabilities. Hillside, the community in which the student’s family lived, was determined to be the district of residence responsible for the student’s tuition in accordance with state law.
After learning that the family later relocated to Massachusetts while retaining and renting their Hillside home, the school district sought to terminate the student’s educational placement. ELC agreed to represent the student’s father in the residency proceeding, in which the school district sought tuition reimbursement from the parent.
ELC argued successfully on behalf of the parent that the school district was required to follow State procedures for district of residency re-determinations that were specifically designed to avoid interruptions in a child’s educational placement.
The Commissioner ultimately agreed with ELC that:
- the parent “bears no financial responsibility whatsoever in this matter” since tuition must be charged to the district of residency or, for parents residing out-of-state, to the State of New Jersey;
- Hillside must be bound by the 2010 district of residence determination “unless and until” that determination is reversed on re-determination or appeal.
“This important ruling will prevent gaps in educational services for special needs students in group homes whose parents move,” said Elizabeth Athos, the ELC Senior Attorney who argued this case. “The purpose of the law in this case is clear: to protect students from the harm caused by being out of school.”
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