Parents sued a school district following an incident with their child. At the time of the incident, the child was 10 and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and received special education services. As a result of his conditions, the child sometimes exhibited significant behaviors that required removal from class or restraint.
The incident that led to the filing of the lawsuit began when the student called his mother to come pick him up from school. At some point, the teacher got on the phone and told the mother that she was "losing patience" with the student. Soon afterward, the student climbed on a table in an effort to avoid his teacher, who then allegedly knocked him to the ground, dragged him through two classrooms and climbed on top of him before kicking him in the chest when he began to run around the room.
The parents took no action regarding this incident for over a year. However, ultimately they filed a due process complaint, which is a complaint process available to parents who believe that their children have not received appropriate services for their diagnosed disability. This complaint process is part of the IDEA, which is a federal law that governs the education of students with disabilities. In this case, the complaint was dismissed because it was filed too late.
The parents then filed a different type of lawsuit, alleging that the district had discriminated against the child based on his disabilities. The district requested that the lawsuit be dismissed because the parents should have gone through the due process complaint framework. The trial court agreed and dismissed the lawsuit and the parents appealed to the court of appeals.
The court of appeals examined the question of whether the parents had to go through the due process complaint framework established under IDEA, or whether they could choose to file a different type of lawsuit. It noted that IDEA is meant to ensure that children with disabilities receive needed special education services and provides federal funds to support this effort. It also establishes a formal procedure to resolve differences between school districts and parents. Therefore, if the nature of the complaint is that the district did not provide proper special education services to a student, parents must adhere to the due process complaint process.
Although there was one judge who argued that this case should proceed because what the parents were alleging was closer to physical abuse than a denial of special education services, ultimately the court of appeals agreed with the district court and dismissed the lawsuit.