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Burlington – Available Remedies

Burlington School Committee v. Massachusetts Department of Education (1985), 471 U.S. 359.


Michael Panico was a student in the Burlington School District in Massachusetts. Michael was diagnosed with “specific learning disabilities” and regularly performed poorly at school, despite his high level of intelligence.

The school district determined that it did not have an appropriate in-district program for him, so it revised Michael’s IEP for the 1979-1980 school year to place him at the Pine Glen School. Michael’s parents rejected the IEP, sought review, and had an evaluation done that indicated that Michael required placement in a “highly specialized setting.” Michael’s parents placed him independently at the Carroll School, a state approved private school.


1) Whether reimbursement is allowed for state approved private school placements (and related expenses) when a child has been denied a free, appropriate public education in the public school district.
2) Whether reimbursement is barred by §1415(e)(3) when parents reject a proposed IEP and place the child in a state approved private school without the consent of the school district.
3) Whether or not the reimbursement can be retroactive.

Split among circuits regarding reimbursement: Does it begin after the case is litigated, or at the date of placement (the date of the denial of FAPE)?

Supreme Court Decision

If a state approved private school is proper under the Act, and the IEP is inappropriate in its placement for the child at a public school, then an IEP must be created to place the child at a private school at public expense.

The Supreme Court held that the Act (the Education of the Handicapped Act, now the IDEA) requires reimbursement and that the court must grant appropriate relief. That appropriate relief includes retroactive reimbursement.

According to the Supreme Court’s decision, reimbursement simply means “expenses [the district] should have paid all along and would have borne in the first instance had it developed a proper IEP.”