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Published: June 22, 2011

Florence County School District v. Carter

A 1993 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right of handicapped children to “free, appropriate public education” and the obligation of local public school districts to pay for such education under the 1975 EDUCATION FOR ALL HANDICAPPED CHILDREN ACT. The decision upheld a successful suit in 1985 against a South Carolina school district by parents of an illiterate 16-year-old. The school had proposed giving the youngster three hours a week of personal instruction, with a goal of helping her make four months of progress during the next school year. Deeming the instruction inadequate, the parents challenged the school in local administrative hearings and lost. They withdrew their daughter from school and sent her to a specialized boarding school, where she progressed far more rapidly and graduated with a high school diploma three years later. The parents sued the school district for the $35,700 they had spent for three years of tuition, room and board. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and in reaffirming the district’s obligation to provide “an education that is both appropriate and free,” it warned that its decision was not a carte blanche for parents to sue whenever they felt a school’s program for the handicapped was inadequate. In the Florence County case, the court pointed out, the proposed program was clearly inadequate and the private school program was just as clearly “appropriate” under federal law.