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.

The trial court dismissed the case finding that the Handicapped Children’s Protection Act required a family to exhaust administrative remedies before filing a civil lawsuit pursuant to the Constitution, ADA, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The parents appealed the decision, and the United States Court of Appeal for the Sixth Circuit agreed with the trial court. The Sixth Circuit held that in order to bring a claim, the parents were required to exhaust their administrative remedies under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The issue before the Supreme Court, therefore, is not whether the student may bring her service dog to school. Instead, the issue is whether the Handicapped Children’s Protection Act of 1986 required the parents to first raise these issues in an administrative proceedings prior to filing a suit seeking damages.

Oral arguments were heard by the Supreme Court on October 31, 2016. The School District argued that the lower courts were correct in concluding the parents were required to exhaust their administrative remedies under IDEA prior to filing suit. The parents, however, argued that there is no such requirement because the parents are seeking relief that is not available under the IDEA: monetary damages.

The Justices likely already voted on this case at their private conference in early November; therefore, the Supreme Court could issue a decision relatively soon. Please check our blog for the latest updates and developments in this case and others impacting K-12 schools.