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Meeting the needs of people with disabilities, their families, educators & service providers

Posts Tagged ‘Deliberate indifference’

School’s failure to address bullying permits suit for damages

Monday, August 12th, 2013

M.J.  v. Marion Independent School District, 61 IDELR 76 (W.D. Tex. 2013): A federal district court allowed the parents of a student with bipolar disorder and ADHD to seek damages from a school district which failed to adequately address disability-based bullying.  The court concluded that, under Section 504, a school may be liable for failing to remedy disability-based peer-on-peer harassment.  Accordingly, the suit was permitted to proceed to resolve a genuine dispute as to whether the school acted with deliberate indifference or gross misjudgment when the student notified it of instances of harassment.

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District’s awareness of ongoing bullying triggers duty to investigate under Section 504 and the ADA

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Sutherlin v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 40 of Nowata Cty., Okla., 61 IDELR 69 (N.D. Okla. 2013)—in this case, the parents of a thirteen year old student with Asperger’s brought suit against the school district. Among other things, the parents alleged that the district acted with deliberate indifference when it failed to follow its own policy to investigate allegations of bullying, by failing to respond to reports of at least 32 incidents. The parents alleged incidents of student-on-student bullying, through the use of name-calling and labeling the student based on his difficulties with socialization. Although finding the allegations insufficient to support a claim of district discrimination, the court found that the complaint sufficiently alleged deliberate indifference with regards to disability-based, student-on-student harassment under the ADA and Section 504. Also, the court found a basis for a claim based on the Equal Protection Clause and municipal liability. On those grounds, the parents were allowed to proceed with their claims against the district for disability-based harassment.

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Failure to implement and revise IEP to address ongoing harassment may render school district liable under Section 504

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Stewart v. Waco Independent School District, 60 IDELR 241 (5th Cir. 2013):  A federal court of appeals allowed a student’s claims relating to alleged harassment to proceed under Section 504, noting that, if taken as true, they could demonstrate that the school district exercised gross misjudgment.  The student, diagnosed with mental retardation, speech impairment, and hearing impairment, alleged she was subject to several instances of sexual harassment and abuse by peers, and that such instances directly resulted from the school district’s failure to implement the safety measures built in to the student’s IEP.  She also claimed that the school failed to revise her IEP to prevent harassment from recurring.

The court denied relief asserted under a theory of deliberate indifference, since the student failed to allege enough facts to meet that threshold.  However, the court permitted the case to proceed under a theory of gross misjudgment, noting that, when viewed favorably to the student, her allegations could show that the district’s course of action went “strongly against the grain of accepted standards of educational practice” if the district failed to satisfy an ongoing responsibility to provide the student with reasonable accommodations necessary to mitigate or eliminate the sexual harassment and abuse.

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Parents may pursue Section 504 claim for disability discrimination related to bullying

Monday, June 17th, 2013

D.A. v. Meridian Joint School District No. 1, 60 IDELR 192 (D. Idaho 2013):  A federal district court permitted a student’s Section 504 discrimination case to proceed where his parents alleged that he was the victim of “relentless bullying.”  The Court explained that “evidence of bullying severe enough to alter the condition of a student’s education and create an abusive educational environment, coupled with knowledge and deliberate indifference by school officials” is one way to establish a Section 504 violation.  Here, a student, diagnosed with Asperger’s and high functioning autism spectrum disorder, burned down his house, which behavior his parents attributed to the harassment he endured at school. Since the student’s fire setting incident resulted in an eighteen month incarceration, the student was deprived of his education (which constituted a denial of access to his education, a prerequisite to a valid Section 504 claim in this instance).  Accordingly, the parents’ claims may proceed to trial (at which time the parents would be required to prove their allegations, as well as knowledge and deliberate indifference by school officials).

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Court refused to dismiss denial of 504 FAPE claim against private school

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Bishop v. Children’s Center for Developmental Enrichment, 57 IDELR 156 (S.D. Ohio 2011): The court refused to dismiss a claim brought by the parents of a student with autism that a private school denied the student a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  As a recipient of federal financial assistance, the private school may be subject to a denial of FAPE claim under Section 504.  Although the private school claimed that the parents withdrew the student from the school, the parents had evidence that the school expelled the student from school by reason of the student’s autism.  Therefore, there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the private school acted with bad faith or gross misjudgment (or at the very least with deliberate indifference) and that it discriminated against the student “solely by reason of his disability.”

However, the court dismissed the parents’ claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), since the parents did not present any admissible evidence that the private school is a place of public accommodation (as is required by Title III of the ADA).  The court also dismissed the parents claim under Section 1983 since the parents could not show that the private school was acting under the color of state law.

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Parent permitted to pursue child find claim by alleging sufficient facts that school district should have evaluated student with ADHD

Monday, May 9th, 2011

E.S. v. Konocti Unified School District, 55 IDELR 226 (N.D. Cal. 2010): The parents of a student with ADHD successfully avoided dismissal of their child find claims by alleging sufficient evidence that the school district should have evaluated the student to determine whether he was eligible for IDEA services.  Among the facts alleged by the parents were that the student was repeatedly disciplined by the school district for emotional outbursts, as well as defiant, disruptive, aggressive and other inappropriate behaviors.  The parents alleged that these behaviors, which are common manifestations of ADHD, caused the student’s educational performance to decline and necessitated special education services.  Moreover, the Court concluded that the parents raised sufficient facts in order to avoid dismissal of their claim for money damages under Section 504, which requires that the school district acted “intentionally or with deliberate indifference.”  The parents alleged that the school district was aware of the student’s disability, knew the student’s disability was substantially likely to impair his ability to receive educational benefit, and repeatedly failed to act upon that likelihood.

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Parents raised enough evidence for jury to decide whether they were entitled to damages for state education department’s Section 504 violations

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Mark H.  v. Hammamoto, 55 IDELR 31 (9th Cir. 2010):  The Court of Appeals determined that the trial court should not have issued a summary judgment dismissing the claims of the plaintiffs (the parents of two autistic girls) who sought damages for alleged violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by the Hawaii Department of Education.  Although states and school districts typically will not be liable for damages for claims under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504, parents can recover damages if the state or school district violated Section 504 intentionally or with deliberate indifference.  In this case the plaintiffs presented evidence that their daughters could not benefit from public education without receiving autism-specific services, the Department provided such services to other students with autism, the Department was aware that the plaintiffs’ daughters required autism-specific services, and the Department failed to provide such services to the plaintiffs’ daughters.  The trial court should have let the jury decide whether the plaintiffs are entitled to damages.

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