The Supreme Court rules in favor of a student with a disability and her family, holding that the parents do not need to exhaust administrative procedures before suing a school district with a claim of disability discrimination.
The Fry case was brought by the parents of a Michigan grade school student with cerebral palsy who wanted their daughter to be able to bring her service dog Wonder to school. Wonder is trained to help the student with many life activities, including helping her pick up dropped items and assisting with balance when she uses her walker. After the school refused to allow Wonder at school, the parents filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Lower courts dismissed the case because they considered the Frys’ claims educational in nature, and so held they were required to file an administrative IDEA complaint and pursue it to its conclusion – in other words, to “exhaust” the administrative process.
The Supreme Court said no, discrimination claims, such as those asserting rights to equal access to public programs or services under the ADA and Section 504, can be brought directly in court even when such claims arise in schools. The Court held that parents need not use the IDEA administrative process and exhaust IDEA claims when the crux, or “gravamen,” of their complaint does not involve the failure to provide the student a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Even if the alleged discrimination occurs in a school setting, in non-FAPE cases parents may go directly to court to protect the student’s rights.