Disabilities & Discrimination

Supreme Court SunriseIn yesterday’s unanimous decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, the Supreme Court articulated the standard by which federal courts should evaluate challenges to individualized education programs (“IEPs”) for students with disabilities.  To pass muster under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), an IEP, according to the Court, must be “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”  Op. at 14-15.

The IDEA specifically requires that students with disabilities receive a “free appropriate public education” (“FAPE”), a term that is itself undefined in the statute.  The Supreme Court initially faced the interpretation of the FAPE requirement thirty-five years ago in Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Central School District, Westchester County v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (1982).  In Rowley, the Court made some general observations about the FAPE standard, but confined its ruling to the specific facts of the case, leaving the question of what substantive standard applies to another day. Continue Reading Supreme Court Clarifies Special Education Standards

Family paper chainOn February 22, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its opinion in Fry ex rel. E.F. v. Napoleon Community SchoolsFry addresses the circumstances in which parents must exhaust the administrative remedies found in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), when their lawsuit purports to assert claims only under other federal discrimination statutes—namely, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  The Court held, unanimously, that parents must exhaust IDEA’s administrative procedures only when the “substance, or gravamen, of the plaintiff’s complaint” seeks relief for the denial of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Continue Reading Supreme Court Clarifies Administrative Exhaustion Requirements Under IDEA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn our present-day education system, technology is an essential, incomparable learning tool for students at all grade levels; and thus, the importance of its accessibility to each and every student cannot be overstated. However, some educational organizations around the United States have failed to provide user-friendly websites to people with disabilities, and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) under the Obama Administration took notice.

In the last year alone, OCR investigated over 350 schools districts for violations of website accessibility for individuals with disabilities.  The OCR resolved the complaints against eleven educational organizations in seven states and one territory for these violations. These investigations were prompted by complaints that these organizations’ websites did not comply with the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the American with Disabilities Act of 1990. In a nut shell, these regulations, which apply to online services and programs, prohibit discrimination of people on the basis their disability and ensures that communications with people with disability are as effective as communications with those without a disability. Continue Reading Web Accessibility: What lies ahead in the Trump Administration?

Columns_000017257808_LargeOn January 11, 2017, the Supreme Court took up its second case this term dealing with the educational rights of students with disabilities, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. The case involves an autistic student, whose parents were not satisfied with his individual educational plan (IEP). The parents placed him in an expensive private school and sought reimbursement from the school district. The lower courts denied their request. Continue Reading What Level of Educational Benefit Must Be Offered to Students with Disabilities?

Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools is one of two important special education cases the Supreme Court will decide this year.  Fry involves the parents of a student with quadriplegic cerebral palsy who sued the school under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. In this case, the school refused to allow the student’s service dog to accompany her to classes. After this refusal, the parents pulled the student out of the School District and later sued in federal court in Michigan. Continue Reading A Decision Could Be Around the Corner in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools

Columns_000017257808_LargeA recent Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision should serve to remind schools of the importance of engaging in the “interactive process” with employees
who may request work-related accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and comparable state laws.

In this case, the plaintiff was a special education teacher living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The School District that employed her became aware of her diagnosis when she requested a leave of absence and transfer to another school due to a deteriorating relationship with the school principal that led to a PTSD relapse. Her requests were granted, and the teacher was transferred to teach in a program for children with learning disabilities as well as behavioral and emotional disorders. Continue Reading Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Finds School Failed to Accommodate Teacher with Mental Disability

Your opinion countsTomorrow is the last day to submit comments to the Department of Justice (the DOJ) in response to the 123 questions the DOJ posed in its supplemental advance notice of proposed rulemaking (SANPRM) regarding the regulation of web accessibility under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The SANPRM was released in May 2016, after the DOJ previously elicited comments on this issue back in 2010. Continue Reading Last Chance: Web accessibility comments to DOJ under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act ends tomorrow