The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that claims under Section 504 and the ADA which do not seek relief available under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) can be filed directly in court, skipping the IDEA's administrative process.
In Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, the parents of a student with cerebral palsy sought to have her service dog attend kindergarten with her. The school refused because it said the 1:1 aide it provided under her Individualized Education Program made the dog unnecessary. The parents filed a complaint in federal court against the school district, alleging violations of Section 504 and the ADA. The trial court found that the parents were required to exhaust their remedies under the IDEA before filing a lawsuit and dismissed the case.
The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that "exhaustion is not necessary when the gravamen of the plaintiff's suit is something other than the denial of the IDEA's core guarantee" of Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). To determine whether a complaint seeks relief for the denial of FAPE, the Court said two questions should be asked: First, could the same claim have been brought against a public facility other than a school? Second, could an adult at the school have made the same complaint? If the answer to both is yes, the heart of the complaint is likely not about FAPE, and the parents will not need to follow IDEA's procedures.
As this case illustrates, it is possible to provide FAPE but still discriminate against a child on the basis of disability.