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Appeals court: Chamberlain must reimburse family for special education

By: - August 15, 2023 2:31 pm
(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A three-judge panel on Tuesday affirmed a ruling from a South Dakota judge ordering the Chamberlain School District to pay $100,000 for the out-of-state placement of a child with special needs.

The Steckelberg family sued the central South Dakota district over its failure to find “appropriate placement” for their son, who is now grown, near the end of his academic career. 

By fifth grade, the boy had been diagnosed with Pediatric Acute Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS), obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette’s and random tic disorder, according to court documents.

Chamberlain School ordered to pay $100,000 to family of disabled child

By the 2018-19 school year, he had been removed from the classroom for repeated behavioral incidents. He was meant to be learning remotely. His parents told the district that the arrangement wasn’t working, but the district did not find another place for the student.

His parents eventually found a program at a Utah school called Kaizen Academy that caters to children with issues similar to their son’s.

This spring, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol in Sioux Falls affirmed an order from a hearing examiner, who had ordered the district to pay for the boy’s tuition and his family’s travel.

Piersol agreed that the district was obliged to offer “Free and Available Public Education” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals took up the matter in oral arguments on June 15. In its appeal, the school district had argued that it shouldn’t be ordered to pay for travel. It also said that Kaizen Academy wasn’t, legally speaking, an “appropriate” educational facility because it focused on behavioral issues as much as education.

The judges disagreed. While at the Academy, they wrote, the boy “completed different classes and, importantly, did well enough to graduate and move on to college.”

“All things considered, the Academy was an appropriate placement,” Judge Jonathan Kobes wrote.

The decision was unanimous. 

Steckelberg decision



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John Hult
John Hult

John is the senior reporter for South Dakota Searchlight. He has more than 15 years experience covering criminal justice, the environment and public affairs in South Dakota, including more than a decade at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.