Education Law

Published: 8-09-2011, 07:42

Compensatory Services

Compensatory services are educational services that are awarded to students with disabilities to make up for services that they lost because of a school board’s failure to provide an appropriate educational placement under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Courts may grant compensatory educational service awards to students with disabilities in situations where school officials failed to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Commonly, compensatory service are offered during time periods when students would otherwise be ineligible for services. This entry summarizes court rulings in this area.

Court Awards

It is well settled that courts have the authority to award compensatory services; Congress empowered them to fashion appropriate remedies to cure a deprivation of rights protected by the IDEA. Hearing officers also have the power to grant awards of compensatory educational services. As with the ability to grant tuition reimbursement, courts have recognized that hearing officers may devise appropriate relief, which often requires an award of compensatory services, as, for example, in Big Beaver Falls Area School District v. Jackson (1993) and Cocores v. Portsmouth, NH School District (1991).

Compensatory services usually are provided for a time period equal to the time that students were denied services (Big Beaver Falls Area School District v. Jackson, 1993; Manchester School District v. Christopher B., 1992; Valerie J. v. Derry Cooperative School District, 1991). Compensatory awards may even be granted after students have passed the ceiling age for eligibility under the IDEA or have graduated (Pihl v. Massachusetts Department of Education, 1993; Puffer v. Raynolds, 1988; State of West Virginia ex rel. Justice v. Board of Education of the County of Monongalia, 2000; Straube v. Florida Union Free School District, 1991, 1992; Valerie J. v. Derry Cooperative School District, 1991).

Awards of compensatory educational services are similar to those for tuition reimbursement in that they may be necessary to preserve the rights of students to a free appropriate public education. The Eleventh Circuit, in Jefferson County Board of Education v. Breen (1988), concluded that without compensatory services awards, a student’s rights under the IDEA might depend on the parents’ ability to privately obtain services during due process hearings. An award for compensatory services accumulates from the point that school board officials knew, or should have known, that a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) was inadequate (Ridgewood Board of Education v. N.E., 1999; M.C. ex rel. J.C. v. Central Regional School District, 1996).

Grounds for Rejection

As is the case with tuition reimbursement, compensatory services may be awarded only when parents can demonstrate that their children were denied the free appropriate public education mandated by the IDEA (Garro v. State of Connecticut, 1994; Martin v. School Board of Prince George County, 1986; Timms v. Metropolitan School District, 1982, 1983). Even so, the Third Circuit asserted that compensatory services are warranted only when parents can demonstrate that their child underwent a prolonged or gross deprivation of the right to a free appropriate public education (Carlisle Area School District v. Scott P., 1995).

Similarly, the Eighth Circuit affirmed that a student was not entitled to compensatory services without a showing of egregious circumstances or culpable conduct on the part of school board officials (Yankton School District v. Schramm, 1995, 1996). The fact that a student had not regressed as a result of the school board’s failure to provide an appropriate program in a timely fashion caused a trial court in New York to deny compensatory services (Wenger v. Canastota Central School District, 1997, 1998). For similar reasons, a school board’s timely action to correct deficiencies in a student’s IEP caused the federal trial court in New Jersey to deny an award of compensatory services (D.B. v. Ocean Township Board of Education, 1997).

Parental failure to take advantage of offered services can cause courts to deny awards of compensatory services. For example, the Ninth Circuit found evidence that school officials offered parents extra tutoring and summer school for their child, but the parents rejected the proposal (Parents of Student W. v. Puyallup School District No. 3, 1994). Thus, the court denied the parents’ request for compensatory services. For similar reasons, the federal trial court in Minnesota denied compensatory speech therapy services, because the parents withdrew their son from his educational program and rejected the services that school board officials offered (Moubry v. Independent School District No. 696, 1996).

Allan G. Osborne, Jr.

See also Disabled Persons, Rights of; Hearing Officers; Related Services

Legal Citations

  • Big Beaver Falls Area School District v. Jackson, 624 A.2d 806 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1993). 
  • Carlisle Area School District v. Scott P., 62 F.3d 520 (3d Cir. 1995). 
  • Cocores v. Portsmouth, NH School District, 779 F. Supp. 203 (D.N.H. 1991). 
  • D.B. v. Ocean Township Board of Education, 985 F. Supp. 457 (D.N.J. 1997). 
  • Garro v. State of Connecticut, 23 F.3d 734 (2d Cir. 1994). 
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq. 
  • Jefferson County Board of Education v. Breen, 853 F.2d 853 (11th Cir. 1988). 
  • Manchester School District v. Christopher B., 807 F. Supp. 860 (D.N.H. 1992). 
  • Martin v. School Board of Prince George County, 348 S.E.2d 857 (Va. Ct. App. 1986). 
  • M.C. ex rel. J.C. v. Central Regional School District, 81 F.3d 389 (3d Cir. 1996). 
  • Moubry v. Independent School District No. 696, 951 F. Supp. 867 (D. Minn. 1996). 
  • Parents of Student W. v. Puyallup School District No. 3, 31 F.3d 1489 (9th Cir. 1994). 
  • Pihl v. Massachusetts Department of Education, 9 F.3d 184 (1st Cir. 1993). 
  • Puffer v. Raynolds, 761 F. Supp. 838 (D. Mass. 1988). 
  • Ridgewood Board of Education v. N.E., 172 F.3d 238 (3d Cir. 1999). 
  • State of West Virginia ex rel. Justice v. Board of Education of the County of Monongalia, 539 S.E.2d 777 (W.Va. 2000). 
  • Straube v. Florida Union Free School District, 778 F. Supp. 774 (S.D.N.Y. 1991), 801 F. Supp. 1164 (S.D.N.Y. 1992). 
  • Timms v. Metropolitan School District, EHLR 554:361 (S.D. Ind. 1982), aff’d, 718 F.2d 212 (7th Cir. 1983); amended, 722 F.2d 1310 (7th Cir. 1983). 
  • Valerie J. v. Derry Cooperative School District, 771 F. Supp. 483 (D.N.H. 1991). 
  • Wenger v. Canastota Central School District, 979 F. Supp. 147 (N.D.N.Y. 1997), aff’d, 146 F.3d 123 (2d Cir. 1998). 
  • Yankton School District v. Schramm, 900 F. Supp. 1182 (D.S.D. 1995), aff’d, 93 F.3d 1369 (8th Cir. 1996).
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