The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of a deaf student in Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, 143 S. Ct. 81 (U.S. 2022), where the Court held that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) exhaustion requirement does not preclude claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) for money damages because the relief sought under the ADA is not one that is available under the IDEA.
In March, the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington ruled against a school district in favor of a student with intellectual disabilities, who was awarded $500,000 by a jury based on the district’s failure to address repeated acts of peer sexual harassment against the student. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that the school district violated the student’s due process and equal protection rights, violated Title IX, violated the Washington Law against Discrimination, and was negligent. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on her due process, equal protection, and negligence claims, and the court denied the district’s motion to set the verdict aside.
The case, Berg v. Bethel School District, is instructive on a range of issues relating to sexual misconduct involving students with disabilities, including a school district’s duty to protect a student with disabilities from sexual harassment even when the student does not explicitly object to the misconduct. …
While only a handful of cases have been reported related to districts’ provision of special education services remotely, we are watching carefully for lessons learned. So far, courts have not required in-person instruction as stay-put, but have indicated the importance of providing remote services tailored to student needs. These early cases reinforce our guidance to make individualized decisions to meet student needs in these extraordinary circumstances. Further, documenting these determinations in an individualized remote learning plan that is incorporated into the student’s IEP can help guard against both procedural and substantive challenges.
Continue Reading Will Hearing Officers and Courts Order In-Person Instruction as Stay-Put?
School personnel should expect to encounter a heated parent from time to time; parents are often understandably passionate about their children’s educations. But what happens when parental advocacy escalates from vigorous advocacy, strenuous objections, and detailed questions to baseless accusations, repeated demands, and threatening or vulgar language or actions? What can a school do when a parent’s hostile behavior continues over time, putting a strain on staff members’ time and impeding productive communication? A recent case out of the Ninth Circuit examined just such a situation and affirmed the rights of schools to put in place reasonable limits on communication.…
A recent decision from the First Circuit Court of Appeals (the highest federal court in the jurisdictions of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island) rebuffed attempts by a student’s parents to heighten the “[f]ree appropriate public education” (FAPE) standard under Endrew F. The court also applied the same standard used by the Seventh Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Illinois, to analyze a claim that a school district failed to provide a student a FAPE in the “[l]east restrictive environment” (LRE). The decision is therefore a useful read for school leaders in Illinois and beyond. Don’t miss the key takeaways for school leaders at the end.
Continue Reading First Circuit Refuses to Heighten the Endrew F. FAPE Standard or Find LRE Violation for Self-Contained Program Placement
AngelSense™, Amber Alert GPS™, Pocket Finder™, Filip™. The list of tracking devices for students with special needs constantly grows, and parents increasingly seek to send such devices with their students to school. The use of GPS is usually uncontroversial. But what if the device allows parents to listen into or even record what the student hears at school? Such functions can raise a plethora of legal concerns. In a recent due process decision from Nevada, an impartial hearing officer decided that parents of a student with Autism could not use the “listen-in” function of an AngelSense tracker at school. What does this decision mean for school districts across the country, including in Illinois?
Continue Reading Six Key Takeaways from Nevada Decision on GPS Tracker’s Audio Function
A recent Education Week Curriculum Matters blog post, “Meet the Moms Pushing for a Reading Overhaul in Their District,” is an important reminder of the challenges that can arise when parents and school staff do not agree on reading methodology for students with special needs. While the law allows schools to choose methodology for students receiving special education and related services in reading and other curricular areas, conflicts over curriculum choices can be expensive to litigate and can undermine parent-staff relationships. How do you minimize the risk of curriculum wars over reading methodology?
Continue Reading Avoiding Reading Curriculum Wars in Special Education
In 2017, the Supreme Court issued an opinion, Fry v. Napoleon, stating that unless parents/guardians seek relief that is also available under the IDEA, they need not exhaust IDEA procedures by filing a complaint for a due process hearing before filing a lawsuit under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Michigan federal trial court so that it could collect more facts and apply the “Fry tests” that the Supreme Court set forth in the case. Earlier this month, the trial court ruled in favor of the Frys, finding that the parents’ claims were not subject to the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement because the parents were not claiming a denial of a free, appropriate public education (or “FAPE). The decision makes clear how important it is for school districts to identify requests for accommodation that are related to access and equity (and not the denial of a FAPE) from early on in the process and to handle them as required by Section 504 and the ADA. It also highlights the importance of ensuring that documentation regarding requests for accommodation thorough and clear. For more on the next chapter in this important Supreme Court case, keep reading!
Continue Reading Recent Lower Court Decision in Fry v. Napoleon Sheds Light on New Exhaustion Standard
A District of Columbia trial court issued a ruling today requiring the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to implement a 2016 Obama-era regulation addressing “significant disproportionality” based on race and national origin in special education. What does this mean for schools? The regulation may bring changes to the data that school districts must report to state boards of education for purposes of the significant disproportionality analysis. There will also be changes to the remedial actions schools must take if a significant disproportionality is found. More on this interesting and important decision is after the jump.
Continue Reading Court: ED Can No Longer Delay Obama-Era Significant Disproportionality Rule
We’ve all heard it before—schools only must provide a “serviceable Chevrolet,” not a Cadillac, to afford a student a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The analogy is often associated with the seminal U.S. Supreme Court case known as Rowley, which said that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires only a “basic floor of opportunity,” not that schools “maximize” a child’s educational potential. The “Chevy vs. Cadillac” analogy was coined and used by lower courts after Rowley, and suggests that schools need only provide a bare minimum of services to afford a student FAPE. However, the Supreme Court in Endrew F. recently rejected such a “minimalist” interpretation of the IDEA. Since then, we have wondered about the continued applicability of the Chevy vs. Cadillac analogy—does it still have a place in special education law after Endrew F? We think not, and in this blog post we offer a better analogy for school leaders looking for a key to providing students FAPE. If you’d like to learn more, keep reading.
Continue Reading Back to Basics: Rowley, Endrew F, and the Chevy vs. Cadillac Analogy