Hickman Lowder

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Update: School Refuses to Allow Service Dog

| Mar 2, 2017 | Children With Special Needs

Remember the little girl with cerebral palsy that wasn’t allowed to bring her guide dog to school in Michigan? The family sued the school district and the case was thrown out because the family didn’t first try to resolve the matter administratively by filing due process under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) laws. The family argued that it was not an IDEA claim, it was an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) claim, so they should be able to go straight to court. It got all the way to the US Supreme Court on appeal, and the US Supreme Court just ruled unanimously that the family is entitled to go directly to court without first filing a due process / administrative claim IF the substance of their complaint does is not about a denial of FAPE. The Supreme Court said that, in order to make that determination, judges must look beyond the wording of a pleading to consider the true essence of the claim. The Court suggested the following hypothetical questions: First, could the student assert the same claim against a public facility that was NOT an educational facility? And second, could an individual OTHER than a student have brought the same claim against the school? If either question results in a “Yes,” the matter does not have to be exhausted administratively and the plaintiff can go directly to court.

Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court didn’t decide whether or not this particular child’s claim about her guide dog is one that needs to be exhausted administratively. It’s sending the case back down to the 6th Circuit to make that determination based on the new test. More waiting…

Fry v. Napoleon Cmty. Schs., 117 LRP 5990 (U.S. 02/22/17)