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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

IDEA, ADA, and Rehabilitation Act

In The Politics of Autism,  I discuss special education court cases, including Smith v. Robinson.
Christina Samuels writes at Education Week that the Supreme Court has asked the Solicitor General for a brief on whether it should take a case involving a service dog.
The legal issue in the case of Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools (No. 15-497) is bit more technical than the dispute over whether a goldendoodle named Wonder could accompany and help the girl at school.

The legal question is whether a 1986 federal statute that amended the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires families to exhaust procedures under the IDEA when they are suing under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Those latter statutes provide for damages, which the IDEA does not.
Stacy and Brent Fry, the parents of now 11-year-old Ehlena, sued under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act after the Napoleon district in 2009 barred Wonder from helping Ehlena, except for a short trial period when the dog was required to remain in the back of the classroom, court papers say. Ehlena was 5 at the time the lawsuit was filed.

The school district said in court papers that Ehlena's individualized education program called for a human aide to assist her, so the dog wasn't necessary.


Congress enacted a law known as Handicapped Children's Protection Act of 1986 in response to a 1984 Supreme Court decision, in Smith v. Robinson, that the IDEA was the exclusive statute for a student with a disability to assert an education-related claim, even if a claim might exist under other federal disability laws or the Constitution.

Congress wanted to make clear that families could press the rights of students with disabilities under other laws, such as the Rehabilitation Act. (The ADA came along later.)
But the 1986 measure does require that if education-related claims brought under other laws are also available under the IDEA, then the family must exhaust state administrative remedies under the IDEA first.