A student sued a school district, alleging that it failed to provide her with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) and also failed to accommodate her disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The student uses a hearing aid and requires interpretation services. The student attended high school at a campus where she was the only student who was hard of hearing. The district recognized that the student could not fully participate in the school's programming absent special educational services and assistive technology, and developed an individualized education plan. But the student alleged that the district failed to properly accommodate her needs as required by her IEP.
For example, she alleged that the district repeatedly failed to provide closed-captioning for films and videos shown in class. She also alleged that the district failed to ensure that two interpreters were available at all times, so that one interpreter would be available if the other needed to take a break.
She also claimed that the "counseling services" she requested took place in the open hallways of the high school, thereby depriving her of the kind of confidentiality and privacy required for counseling to be effective.
Lastly, she argued that the district's failure to timely provide her with Communication Access Realtime Translation Services for a live debate competition left her unable to fully participate in the extracurricular activity.
Taken together, the student claimed that the district's refusals to accommodate her hearing loss left her isolated from her peers and unable to meaningfully participate in educational programs and activities. She ultimately left the district to be homeschooled.
The student filed a due process complaint with the Texas Education Agency, alleging that the district failed to provide her with FAPE in accordance with the terms of her IEP. This type of complaint is permitted under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The commissioner of education determined that the district had properly provided FAPE. The student then filed an appeal to district court, adding a claim that the district had failed to properly accommodate her disability under the ADA and requested monetary damages as a result of that failure. The district requested that the case be dismissed on the basis that the district had provided FAPE and the district court agreed and dismissed the case. The student appealed that decision.
On appeal, the court of appeals noted that there are different laws involved. The first, the IDEA, offers federal funds to the states in exchange for providing free appropriate public education to all children with certain physical or intellectual disabilities. The primary vehicle through which a child receives the benefits of their promised FAPE is the IEP. An IEP is developed by a group of school officials, teachers and parents and is a personalized plan that details the special education and related services necessary for the child to meet their educational goals. When a lawsuit is filed under IDEA, the remedy is for the child to receive FAPE.
The second statute is the ADA. The ADA protects the rights of all individuals with disabilities (not just children) by banning discrimination by public entities, including schools. The ADA includes a mandate to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Unlike the IDEA, the ADA allows people to file lawsuits seeking monetary damages.
The court of appeals acknowledged that there can often be overlap between the IDEA and the ADA. In this case, the district argued that there was overlap and that the claims under both laws should be dismissed because what the student was actually seeking was FAPE, which is the remedy allowed under the IDEA. However, the court of appeals disagreed because the student was also seeking monetary damages, which are not allowed under the IDEA. The appellate court overturned the district court's finding and ordered the case to continue.