Court Declines to Hear Case On Home School Special Ed
April 25, 2001
By Mark Walsh
The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to hear the appeal of a Nevada couple
in a case raising the question of whether home-schooled children with disabilities
are entitled to special education services from their local school districts.
Two lower federal courts had ruled that the main federal special education law
does not grant that right to disabled children schooled at home, and the justices
on April 16 declined without comment to review those rulings.
William and Catherine Hooks sued the Clark County, Nevada, school district in
1998 after it refused to provide speech-therapy services to their son, Christopher,
who was taught at home. Administrators told the family that district policy prohibited
the provision of special education services to home-schooled students, but they encouraged
the parents to seek an exemption from the school board.
Instead, the parents filed a complaint with the state department of education, which
was rejected. The state relied on a 1992 policy letter from the U.S. Department of Education's
office of special education programs declaring that states have discretion in whether to
provide such services to home-schooled students.
The parents then filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the district's policy violated
the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires states and school
districts receiving federal funds to provide a "free appropriate public education" to
children with disabilities. The Home School Legal Defense Association, based in Purcellville,
Va., backed the suit.
Both a federal district court and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit,
in San Francisco, ruled for the 231,000-student Clark County district, which includes Las Vegas.
(See Hooks v. Clark County School District.) The three-judge appellate panel ruled unanimously
last year that states have discretion on whether to define a home school as a private school
subject to the IDEA.
"Nothing in the IDEA requires that school districts provide services to children whose parents
have rejected the state's offer of an education and have failed to enroll in any 'school,' under
the state's definition of that word," the 9th Circuit court said.
The ruling apparently was the first by a federal appeals court on the issue of eligibility of
home-schooled students for special education services. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th
Circuit, in Denver, ruled in a 1998 case that home-schooled students had no right to participate
on public school athletic teams.
The 9th Circuit ruled on the eligibility issue even though Nevada passed a 1999 law requiring
districts to provide special education services to home-schooled children. The court said a
question of reimbursement for the Hooks family's expenses for providing speech therapy had
kept the case from becoming moot.
In its response to the family's Supreme Court appeal in Hooks v. Clark County School
District (Case No. 00-1261), the district said it was perplexed that the parents had not
sought speech therapy for their son from the district since the change in state law now
"This case has never been about Christopher's speech-therapy services," the district
claimed in legal papers. "This case is, and always has been, an attempt to get a federal
court to rule that home-schooled students are entitled, without exception, to the rights
and privileges granted by the IDEA."
Reprinted with Permission of the EPE Library