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COPAA files Amicus Brief in United States Supreme Court in Support the Family in Fry v. Napoleon

Wednesday, September 7, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Denise Marshall

COPAA and the Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) filed an amicus brief on August 29, 2016 in support of Stacy Fry, Brent Fry and the minor child E.F.  At issue is the refusal of Napoleon Community Schools to allow E.F. to bring her service dog to school, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504).  The reason given to the family was that the provision of E.F.’s one on one assistant satisfied its obligations to E.F. under a completely different statute: IDEA.  When E.F. and her family brought suit under the ADA and Section 504, the Sixth Circuit ruled that the family should first have sought relief under the IDEA and exhausted administrative remedies through the IDEA.  IDEA is a very different statute from ADA and Section 504

Reading the Handicapped Children’s Protection Act of 1986, Pub. L. No. 99-372 (“HCPA”), now codified at 20 U.S.C. § 1415(l), to require exhaustion in all discrimination cases that deal with students or educational environments confuses and conflates the entirely different processes, standards, and purposes of these acts.  Such a reading is inappropriate and erroneous. 

IDEA provides a strong entitlement to an Individualized Educational Program (“IEP”) with appropriate special education and related services regardless of cost to the school district. IDEA also provides strong procedural protections. There are claims for which IDEA provides appropriate remedies, and claims for which it cannot. To require exhaustion even when IDEA procedures cannot resolve the harms at issue or provide meaningful relief will have significant due process and practical consequences that are detrimental to students with disabilities seeking to vindicate their Section 504/ADA rights. Congress passed HCPA to ensure that students do not lose their right to bring their non-IDEA civil rights claims when they enter the schoolhouse door. Abandoning the remedy and claim centered inquiries set out in the plain language of 20 U.S.C. Section 1415(l) is not only erroneous, it eviscerates HCPA. Students with disabilities like E.F. who are undisputedly receiving IDEA FAPE may still have Section 504 and ADA claims that do not involve the right to receive FAPE under IDEA and are therefore not seeking relief available under it. 

The Sixth Circuit’s decision essentially requires exhaustion in all cases where a student with a disability raises discrimination claims related to an educational environment solely because the plaintiff happens to be a student with disabilities who may have an IEP. Under that standard, virtually all Section 504/ADA claims involving public school students would require exhaustion under IDEA, a different statute. This is at odds with plain statutory language and the clear legislative intent, and will create onerous, time-consuming, expensive, and confusing procedural hurdles that will hinder families in vindicating distinct ADA/504 rights.  COPAA urged the Supreme Court to reverse the Sixth Circuit holding.  Selene Almazan, Alexis Casillas, Alice Nelson, Catherine Merino Reisman and Ellen Saideman authored the brief for COPAA. 

The other amicus briefs and the merits brief can be found at the links below:

Petitioners Brief

Solicitors General

Autism Speaks

Hon. Lowell P. Weicker, Jr.

States of Illinois and Minnesota

Psychiatric Service Dog Partners et al

Prof. Hehir et al

NDRN et al

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