Would a squealing guinea pig be a distraction?

A student in Indiana had a 504 plan that called for “reduced classroom distractions.”  Then COVID happened and the entire state went on remote instruction.  This was hard on this student’s family.  They lived in a ranch home with about 1200 square feet of space, with five children (5 to 20 years old) and three pets “including a guinea pig who frequently squeals to get attention for five minutes or more.” 

The parents sued the district, claiming disability discrimination.  Nope. The court held that this was not disability discrimination: All children were treated the same, even though their circumstances differed.  All children, including these children, received remote instruction. Moreover, the school was not responsible for “classroom distractions” under these emergency circumstances.

The legal standards of IDEA and Section 504 did not change when COVID hit us.  But most judges have the good common sense to interpret those standards in ways that recognize the altered reality. It’s hard to see how the school could have reduced the classroom distractions under these circumstances. 

It's Reinoehi v. St. Joseph County Health Dept.,  decided by the Indiana Court of Appeals on December 3, 2021.  It’s cited in Special Ed Connection at 80 IDELR 51.


Got a question or comment for the Dawg?  Let me hear from you at jwalsh@wabsa.com