Peter v. Wedl

155 F.3d 992 (1998)

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Peter v. Wedl

United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
155 F.3d 992 (1998)

  • Written by Alexander Hager-DeMyer, JD

Facts

Aaron Westendorp (plaintiff) was a disabled child in Independent School District No. 273 (district 273) (defendant) whose disabilities required him to have a full-time paraprofessional while in school. Aaron attended Calvin Christian School, a private, religious elementary school. The Westendorps could pay for Aaron’s tuition but not the paraprofessional and requested funding from district 273. The district denied the request. At the time, Minnesota state law barred school districts from providing special-education services at private religious schools on Establishment Clause grounds. In its refusal, district 273 cited an internal policy of denying services to students at all private schools, religious or otherwise. However, district 273 did fund services for students at nonreligious private schools. The Westendorps were forced to transfer Aaron to a public school to receive a funded paraprofessional. The Westendorps sued district 273 and were joined by Sarah Peter (plaintiff), a disabled student at another religious school who was denied services by Independent School District No. 877 (district 877) (defendant). Peter argued that the state law was unconstitutional. The Westendorps presented the same argument and also argued that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) entitled Aaron to special-education resources. The court ruled against the Westendorps on their IDEA claim. During the trial, the United States Supreme Court ruled that public school districts could provide secular services at private religious schools without violating the Establishment Clause. As a result, district 273 and district 877 stipulated to an injunction against the Minnesota law. District 877 agreed to provide services to Peter, and both parties dropped the suit. The IDEA was also amended, and school districts no longer had to fund special education in private schools if a free appropriate education was available in public school and parents chose not to attend. District 273 continued to deny services to Aaron, and the district court granted summary judgment in favor of district 273. The Westendorps appealed to the Eighth Circuit.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Magill, J.)

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