Court Expands Reach of Disability Law in Schools

A federal appeals court expanded the obligations of school districts to accommodate handicapped students Tuesday, in reinstating a claim by deaf children in the Tustin Unified School District.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the school may be required to provide a trained stenographer for real-time, word-for-word transcription so deaf and hard-of-hearing students can understand the teacher and students without undue strain.

The decision revives two lawsuits by a Tustin and Poway high school students in Southern California.  The court said that although the school district may have complied with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), to create education plans, that does not mean the school had also complied with the terms of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“At least as a general matter, public schools must comply with both the IDEA and the ADA,” wrote Judge Marsha Berzon.  Congress has made clear that the IDEA “coexists with the ADA and other federal statutes, rather than swallowing the others,” she said.

The IDEA requires schools to create a plan that gives handicapped students access to free public education.  The ADA requires reasonable accommodation of handicapped Americans in jobs and education.

The school had offered the students an alternative to real-time transcription through a technology called TypeWell.

The students sued noting that real-time transcripts are commonly paid for in other Southern California public school districts, including Los Angeles and Santa Monica schools.

But the students lost at the trial court and the administrative process, until Tuesday’s decision by the 9th Circuit.

Although the decision is a victory for the student who began seeking the voice-to-text services when she entered the ninth grade in 2009, she was a senior in 2012 when the case was appealed to the 9th Circuit and will not benefit personally from the ruling.

The second student, identified only as D.H., was a seventh grader when the suit began in 2009, so could still be eligible for the benefit.

Berzon was joined by Judges Richard Clifton and Sandra Ikuta.

Case:  K.M. v. Tustin Unified School District., No. 11-56259


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