Exhaustion can be exhausting.  If you are a parent of a student with special needs, you have probably heard that you must exhaust administrative remedies before filing suit against a school under laws such as the ADA or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  Thanks to Wonder, the service dog, the U.S. Supreme Court has now answered when families must exhaust administrative remedies under IDEA before holding the school accountable under other laws.

The case involved a young girl with Cerebral Palsy who relied on a service dog for assistance in balance, mobility and daily tasks.  The girl’s family requested that Wonder be allowed to accompany her to school and did not request any changes to the IEP.  Rather, they requested that their daughter’s special needs be accommodated by allowing Wonder to assist her during the school day.  The school refused.    The parents argued that Wonder helped the student gain much-needed independence, but the school opted for a 1:1 aide instead.  The parents, after moving, sued the school for discrimination.
The lower courts both held that family was required to exhaust administrative remedies under IDEA prior to pursuing a claim for discrimination, essentially placing a needless hurdle between the family and righting a wrong.  The U. S. Supreme Court reversed the lower court and did the right thing.  The Court reasoned that the family’s claim is distinct from a complaint about the student IEP or special education services.  Therefore, they were not required to exhaust administrative remedies such as filing a claim under IDEA.
This is an important case because it removes a barrier to the right of disabled students to seek relief when their true claim is one of discrimination and is separate from their claim about an IEP or special education services.  In other words, the parents and the student need not go through the hearing process under IDEA prior to pursuing their claim.

This case is also important because it was a unanimous decision in favor of a disabled student, a welcome development in the current state of education law.

Read more about Wonder here.
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