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Exhausting Administrative Remedies Under IDEA Not Required in School Discrimination Cases Alleging Disability

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by Jocelyn Campbell

This case centered on a parents’ request to have their daughter’s Goldendoodle, a service dog, accompany their daughter, who suffers from cerebral palsy, to kindergarten. The school district denied the parents request and the parents filed a lawsuit in U.S. Federal District Court in Michigan under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. The district court dismissed the case, pointing to federal law that requires families seeking relief that is also available under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to avail themselves of all possible administrative remedies under IDEA before filing a civil lawsuit. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision.

The U. S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous 8-0 decision in favor of the family, reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals decision and remanded the case for a proper review under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. Justice Elena Kagan, writing the opinion, ruled that when families file lawsuits under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act, both of which bar discrimination against adults and children with disabilities, they do not need to first go through the administrative proceedings required by IDEA, which ensures that children with disabilities receive the special education services they need, unless the focus of the lawsuit is an allegation that the student did not receive the “free appropriate public education” guaranteed by the Act. This means that a student who alleges that a school has discriminated against her because of her disability is not required to use IDEA’s administrative proceedings simply because the alleged discrimination happened at school

Holding: Exhaustion of the administrative procedures established by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is unnecessary when the gravamen of the suit is something other than the denial of IDEA’s core guarantee of a “free appropriate public education.”

Fry Et Vir, As Next Friends of Minor E. F. v. Napoleon Community Schools et al.