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A student diagnosed with anorexia nervosa sued a journalism teacher, claiming that the teacher “exploited her mental illness” by pressuring her into being featured in a story in the school yearbook. The suit alleges that the journalism teacher assigned other students to interview and photograph the student, without ever contacting the parents to obtain permission. The suit alleges that the girl subsequently lost 43 pounds and was placed by her parents in an out-of-state institution to address her anorexia. The suit is against the district, an assistant principal and the journalism teacher.
On March 25th the court dismissed all claims against the teacher. The suit claimed disability discrimination in violation of Section 504 and the ADA. The court pointed out that individuals are not exposed to liability under those statutes. School districts are potentially liable for disability discrimination under these statutes, but not individuals. So the teacher is off the hook.
On the way to making that ruling the court made some other rulings that will be of interest to the lawyers.
*First, the court held that the requirement to “exhaust administrative remedies” under Section 504 is not a jurisdictional requirement.
*Second, the court held that this claim did not require exhaustion. The court concluded that the student was not claiming a denial of FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education), but rather, straightforward disability discrimination. The student had a 504 plan. The parents allege that it was implemented at the middle school but never made its way to the high school, thus resulting in a hostile environment.
*Finally, the court pointed out that when an educator claims “qualified immunity” as the journalism teacher did, the plaintiff is required to negate that claim in pleadings, which the plaintiff here failed to do.
Bottom line: plaintiff did not have to go through a special education due process hearing, but still, her case against the individual teacher lacked merit because teachers are not candidates for liability under ADA or 504.
The case is S.C. v. Round Rock ISD, decided by the federal court for the Western District of Texas on March 25, 2020. We found it at 120 LRP 11162.
DAWG BONE: NO PERSONAL LIABILITY UNDER ADA/504 FOR EDUCATORS.
Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!