Special education students in nonpublic schools are entitled to services and instruction, even extended-year services, from public schools, the state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday in a case involving the Robbinsdale school district.
The decision by a three-judge panel upheld a 2006 ruling by the Minnesota Department of Education and affirmed the agency's ability to investigate districts.
The department found the Robbinsdale district in violation of state law because it was limiting special instruction and services to disabled private-school students, especially extended-school-year services -- even though the school district was found to have provided appropriate services for the student in this particular case.
The department ordered the district to prepare a memo regarding the rights of private-school students to a "free appropriate public education" and addressing the rights to special education and related services, which would be distributed to school personnel.
The district also was ordered to send a letter to private-school parents explaining their right to discuss services for their disabled children.
The school district sought to overturn the ruling on several grounds, but the court declined in a decision written by Judge Roger Klaphake and signed by Judges Gordon Shumaker and Renee Worke.
During the 2005-'06 year, the unidentified child in question attended third grade at a private school in the district. In February 2006, the district determined that the student was eligible for special-needs services. The district prepared an individualized education plan to increase the student's math and organizational skills. The plan indicated that extended-year services were not required.
In May 2006, the child's parent asked the district to determine if the child was eligible for services in the summer of 2006. The district responded that private school students do not have a right to special services.
Eventually, the district agreed to provide some summer services in math. The district contends that the parent agreed to the services and declined additional ones, but the parent said that was all the district would provide.
The district argued in part that the state education department lacked the authority to review its services for disabled private school students simply because of a complaint by one student's parent.
The court, however, said the department has the authority and responsibility to "investigate the complaint, assess the local school district's polices" and "if necessary, order corrective action to address the provision of appropriate services to children with disabilities in the future."
School District Superintendent Stan Mack said the ruling will "not change any district practice as we've been consistently doing the right thing with services in question for the nonpublic student."
He noted that the district had challenged the state's authority to probe an entire class just because one student raised a question. The district will not appeal further, he said.
Deputy Education Commissioner Chas Anderson issued a written statement: "We are pleased that the Court of Appeals clearly affirmed the Department of Education's authority to ensure that students with disabilities enrolled in nonpublic schools receive services from public school districts to which they are legally entitled," she said.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747