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Carter – Available Remedies

Florence County School District Four v. Shannon Carter (1993), 510 U.S. 7.


Shannon Carter was classified as learning disabled in the ninth grade. The drafted IEP provided for Shannon to remain in regular classes, except for three periods of individual instruction each week, and defined specific goals in reading and mathematics of four months’ progress for the entire school year. Shannon’s parents were not satisfied with the IEP and filed in order to challenge it.

In the interim, Shannon was removed from her school district and placed in Trident Academy, a private school not approved by the state.


Whether a “court may order reimbursement for parents who unilaterally withdraw their child from a public school that provides an inappropriate education under IDEA and put the child in a non state approved private school that provides an education that is otherwise proper under IDEA, but does not meet all the requirements of § 1401(a)(18).”

Supreme Court Decision

The Supreme Court’s decision in Carter was unanimous.

The Supreme Court found that parents are entitled to reimbursement if the child receives an appropriate education at the private school (even if it is not state approved) after having been denied it at the public school. In other words, Carter applies to private placements that are not approved by the state.

According to the Supreme Court, the IDEA was created to guarantee children with disabilities an education that is both “appropriate and free”; as such, to “bar reimbursement in the circumstances of this case would defeat this statutory purpose.”

Parents are entitled to reimbursement as long as it is concluded that:
1) The public placement was in violation of IDEA; and
2) The private placement was proper under IDEA.

The Court also ruled that the requirement that schools meet state standards does not apply when parents place their child in a private program. The requirements of § 1401(a)(18) were not designed for parental placements because they would effectively “eliminate the right of unilateral withdrawal.”


The school district complained of the “unreasonable burden on financially strapped local educational authorities” because of the reimbursement.

The Supreme Court’s response: “There is no doubt that Congress has imposed a significant financial burden on States and school districts that participate in IDEA. Yet public educational authorities who want to avoid reimbursing parents for the private education of the disabled child can do one of two things: give the child a free appropriate public education in a public setting, or place the child in an appropriate private setting of the State’s choice. This is IDEA’s mandate, and school officials who conform to it need not worry about reimbursement claims.”

The Supreme Court also noted that the reimbursement must be both appropriate and reasonable. Thus, total reimbursement is not mandated or appropriate if the court finds that the cost of a particular private education was unreasonably excessive.