Can’t wait for the movie….

We’re Zooming with the Dawg today at 10! Join me and Jennifer Carroll for a discussion of the changes in the Dyslexia Handbook.

There are many school law cases that would make a terrific movie.  At the top of my list is the case of the popular teacher, the students who rallied to his defense after he was reassigned, and the student who sued over this, claiming that the learning environment had become hostile. 

Mr. Stasack was the French Immersion teacher, which was a part of the International High School International Baccalaureate program at South Eugene High School in Oregon.   The French Immersion students moved as a cohort through each grade, creating a close-knit group. But our eventual plaintiff, Riley Duncan, did not feel like he was part of the group. Riley had ADHD and was identified as a student with a Specific Learning Disability and an Other Health Impairment.  His IEP called for certain accommodations, including extra time and a separate location for testing. 

According to Riley, Mr. Stasack refused to provide these accommodations and “frequently demeaned him in class related to his accommodations.”  An assistant principal recalled a meeting in which Mr. Stasack expressed the view that ADHD was not a proper basis for a need for accommodations.  Mr. Stasack told Riley’s parents that the student did not have a right to be enrolled in the French Immersion program.

Apparently, the school administration also found Mr. Stasack’s attitude and behavior troubling.  The district wrote him up, citing his “bias against disabled students” and resistance to providing accommodations. Two families had “justifiably demanded” that Stasack not teach their children. The write-up accused Mr. Stasack of discrimination against a student with a disability which could expose the district to liability.

Based on all of that, the district reassigned Mr. Stasack to another school for the 2016-17 school year.  That’s when the students got involved.

First there was the student walkout:

Multiple SEHS students testified the walkout was staged as a protest against “the 504 kids” causing Stasack to be transferred.

Then there was the sweatshirt sale.  (Sidebar: sweatshirts?  We would be doing t-shirts. But this is Oregon).  The main text of the sweatshirt featured Stasack’s name, followed by some of the popular phrases he often used in class.  Notably, the sweatshirts were not offered to Riley or to another student who had a 504 plan.

Riley’s mother was particularly upset about students wearing these sweatshirts at the graduation ceremony, which they did.  Not only that, the student who had organized the sweatshirt sale was a speaker at the graduation and she made multiple references to her class’s “civil rights actions.”

The court ended up ruling that Riley had alleged facts that plausibly stated a claim of “hostile environment’ which is actionable under Section 504/ADA.  Thus we have yet another example of the increased exposure that school districts have to claims of disability discrimination.  But notice that the hostility did not come from the school administration.  In fact, it was the school administration’s effort to protect students with disabilities by reassigning Mr. Stasack that provoked the backlash that created the hostile environment.  That backlash came from the students who supported the popular teacher.   

As this case moves forward, I hope the court will take that factor into account.  It’s Duncan v. Eugene School District 4J, decided by the federal court in Oregon on July 26, 2021.  It’s on Special Ed Connection at 79 IDELR 67.


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