Parents “Fur” Sure Must Exhaust IDEA Administrative Remedies When Alleging Denial of FAPE

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Author: Michael Tucker, Attorney at Law

Summary:

On February 22, 2017, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled that IDEA’s exhaustion requirement only applies when a complaint’s central issue is denial of FAPE.   Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools, et al. 117 LRP 5990 (Feb. 22, 2017)

Facts:

Student is a 5 year old with cerebral palsy who uses a service dog while attending school.  Under the student’s IEP, a human aide provided one-on-one support throughout the day rendering use of the service dog redundant.

Parents, wanting Student to maintain use of the service animal, removed Student from school and filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).  OCR determined that refusal to permit the service dog onto campus violated Student’s rights under the ADA and Section 504.

When Parents feared disparate treatment due to the return of the dog, they enrolled Student in a different school district.  Parents then filed suit against the original school district alleging violation of the ADA and Section 504, including discrimination, seeking money damages for Student’s emotional distress and pain, embarrassment, and mental anguish.

The lower court ruled that Parents were required to first exhaust the administrative procedures under IDEA’s due process protections before they could file a lawsuit.

Issue:

Is a parent required to exhaust the administrative remedies under the IDEA before filing a separate lawsuit?

Conclusion:

No, IDEA’s exhaustion requirement only applies when the complaint’s central issue is a denial of FAPE.

Discussion:

Generally, the IDEA does not restrict Parents from seeking redress under other federal laws like Section 504 or the ADA.  However, the IDEA does require parents to first exhaust the IDEA’s administrative procedures if relief is sought under a separate law.  In this case, the Supreme Court held that filing first under IDEA is only required if the parent’s central dispute is regarding FAPE.  To make this determination courts are required to ask two questions:

  1. Could the student assert the same claim against a public entity other than a school, such as a library?
  1. Could an adult at the school assert the same claim against the district?

If the answer to those questions is yes the claim is unlikely to involve a denial of FAPE, and no exhaustion of IDEA procedures is required.  Therefore, this decision may increase use of Section 504, the ADA, or civil remedies for money damages without using the IDEA’s due process procedures.

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