Lawsuit against district over child's IEP dismissed by courts | TCTA
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Lawsuit against district over child's IEP dismissed by courts

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A student enrolled in a Texas school district after spending the first nine years of his life in a crib in Bulgaria. The student was severely malnourished and had diagnosed disabilities of autism and Down syndrome, and as a result had a habit of eating objects within his reach, regardless of whether they were edible. This caused him to choke or experience other related medical emergencies.

Upon his enrollment, the district developed an individualized education program that was designed to accommodate the student's disabilities. However, the student ingested inedible objects on multiple occasions, prompting the parent to email the district employees to emphasize the severity of the student's disability and outline solutions to prevent further incidents. An Admission, Review and Dismissal committee was convened and the parent sought assurances that the child's IEP sufficiently documented choking hazards.

A month later, the student ingested a plastic straw and a pen cap while at school. The parent emailed district employees again, emphasizing that "the IEP clearly states that he must have constant supervision." Following this incident, the district agreed to one-on-one supervision for the student. However, the student remained unsupervised and ingested six rubber gloves that required emergency surgery to remove.

The parent sued on behalf of the child under the Americans with Disabilities Act and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, claiming that the district intentionally discriminated against the child by failing to provide him with a safe environment and accommodations for his disabilities. The suit requested money damages be awarded for this failure.

The school district requested that the lawsuit be dismissed, arguing that the parent had not followed the proper procedures and was required to file a lawsuit under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in this type of situation. The district court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit. The parent appealed.

The court of appeals described how IDEA applies to public schools, noting that it requires schools to provide all students with disabilities a "free and appropriate public education" that includes both special-education instruction and necessary support services.

Schools document a student's needs in an IEP, which serves as the primary vehicle for providing each child with the promised FAPE. Parents who are dissatisfied with their child's IEP must first file a complaint with TEA and exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit in federal court. If the goal of the parents is to ensure that the student receives a FAPE, this process is mandatory. Cases filed under laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 provide other types of relief.

In this case, although the parents were requesting money as a remedy, they were really arguing that their child did not receive FAPE. Therefore, they were required to first challenge the IEP with TEA. Since they failed to do this, their lawsuit was dismissed.