We suspect that no one was acting in bad faith. The teacher in Palo Alto, California, faced a dilemma.  She knew that a child in her class had cystic fibrosis (CF).  Then she found out that another child in the same school—the court calls him C.C.--also had CF.  Or at least that’s what the teacher thought she heard.  So in a parent teacher conference, she told the other parents about C.C.’s condition. She did not have permission from C.C.’s parents to disclose this sensitive information.

On September 11, 2012, school officials told the Chadams, C.C.’s parents, that another child’s parents had “discovered C.C.’s condition.” But the Chadams denied that their son had CF.  Genetic screening that had been done when C.C. was a newborn indicated that he had the “genetic markers” for CF, but he did not have the actual disease.  However, two days later the school received a letter from a doctor recommending that C.C. be removed from the school for the protection of the child who did have CF.

It didn’t take long for the Chadams to produce their own doctor’s letter, which stated that C.C. had never had CF and posed no health risk whatsoever.

Hmmmm. We are educators, not doctors.  The docs disagree.  What to do?

On October 10 the school made its decision, removing C.C. from Jordan Middle School.  The Chadams promptly filed for an injunction to get him back to Jordan. The case settled before going to court and C.C. returned to Jordan Middle School just two weeks later.

But a year later, the parents filed another suit, this time alleging, among other things, that the school district violated the ADA and Section 504.

To win, the parents had to prove that 1) C.C. was a qualified individual with a disability; 2) he was excluded from, or denied the benefits of services or programs, or otherwise discriminated against; and 3) this exclusion, denial or discrimination was based on his disability.   In yesterday’s entry, we explained how the parents were able to establish that C.C. qualified as a person with a disability, even though he was not impaired.  Nevertheless, the court ended up ruling for the school district, based on its conclusion that the district acted on its effort to preserve the safe operation of the school.

ADA regulations specifically allow governmental entities to “impose legitimate safety requirements necessary for the safe operation of its services, programs, or activities.” This has to be based on “actual risks, not on mere speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities.”

This case presents an interesting scenario because it looks like the school acted on incorrect information. It turned out that C.C. did not have CF.  However, the school did have recommendations from a doctor that it relied on. Moreover, the “exclusion” was not an exclusion from educational services, but only from Jordan Middle School for a brief period--two weeks.

The court seemed to apply the sometimes uncommon tool of common sense.  The school was caught in a dilemma. There was clearly no intent to discriminate against anyone, just a desire to make sure that all parties were kept safe.  And no doubt, the fact that the exclusion was of short duration, and only to another middle school, factored in.

The case is Chadam v. Palo Alto USD, decided by the federal court for the Northern District of California on November 4, 2014.