US appeals court reinstates disability lawsuit against Florida school district News
US appeals court reinstates disability lawsuit against Florida school district

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on Monday reinstated a lawsuit alleging a Florida school district failed to meet disabled students’ right to a free and appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). After a US district court blocked the suit based on IDEA’s exhaustion requirements, the Eleventh Circuit reversed that decision and found that the district court erred in not allowing the plaintiff to pursue monetary damages.

Counsel for the students alleged:

[T]he School Board routinely excluded students with disabilities from classroom instruction through the use of informal tactics, such as sending children home early, instructing parents to keep their children home even if they were not suspended, and otherwise removing them from the classroom and, thus, depriving them of an education.

While IDEA does require parties to seek a hearing before a local or state educational agency prior to filing a lawsuit, and to appeal an unfavorable local decision before doing so, its exhaustion requirement does not apply to “suits seeking remedies unavailable under IDEA.”

In other words, after the US Supreme Court’s 2023 decision in Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, plaintiffs seeking relief no longer have to exhaust or meet all of the administrative requirements under IDEA to pursue an ADA claim at the same time, since IDEA does not provide for monetary damages.  This appeals court explained that here, the plaintiffs “unambiguously sought compensatory monetary damages under ADA and not compensatory education under the IDEA.” The plaintiffs going forward should be able to pursue claims to receive monetary relief under the ADA without first going through the IDEA’s administrative hoops, which does not provide for monetary relief.

IDEA became law in 1975. The US Congress intended for all children with disabilities to have a chance at reaching their full potential academically.