The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a special education student is not limited to a due process complaint under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and can sue a school district for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The student, who is deaf, attended public schools for 11 years. During that time, he either did not receive a qualified interpreter, or he was assigned one who was repeatedly absent. Shortly before he was scheduled to graduate, the student was informed that he would not receive a diploma; until then, the student and his family believed that he was making progress.
The student's family filed a complaint against the school district in which they alleged that the district had violated both IDEA, which requires school districts to provide students with disabilities with a free and appropriate public education, and the ADA, which (among other things) bars discrimination against children with disabilities in public schools.
The IDEA claim was settled when the school district agreed to pay for the student to attend a school for the deaf. The student then went to federal court, where he argued that the school district’s failure to give him an interpreter violated the ADA.
The district court dismissed the case, stating that he could only file his lawsuit after going through the entire administrative process available under IDEA, which includes a hearing before an administrative hearing officer.
In this case, the student did not do that because that portion of the claim had been settled. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the ruling, and the student appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court held that the student was not required to go through the IDEA complaint process to pursue his ADA claim because he was seeking a remedy that was not available through IDEA, specifically compensation for the emotional distress and lost income resulting from the school district’s failure to provide the student with a qualified interpreter. Although this is a remedy available through the ADA, it is not a remedy available through IDEA.
The Supreme Court stated that it was not making a finding as to whether the student was actually entitled to the compensation he sought and sent the case back to the lower courts to make that determination.