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By: Benjamin T. Davisson

In seeking redress for discrimination suffered at school, disabled students and their parents would often find themselves stumbling into a maze of administrative proceedings with the school district and the state board of education. Typically, these proceedings might result in the school being directed to work harder at accommodating the disabled student. Only then, after having completed in these administrative proceedings, could the student sue the school for damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

This administrative complexity stems from a provision in the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) stating that when a disabled student seeks relief that is also available under IDEA, IDEA’s administrative procedures shall be exhausted to the same extent as would be required if the action had been brought under IDEA. Courts had interpreted this provision to require disabled students who suffered discrimination in school to first participate in IDEA’s administrative procedures whenever the disabled student’s complaint could be characterized as a school’s failure to provide accommodation so as to ensure that the disabled student receives a “free appropriate public education.” However, many disabled students who suffered discrimination were not interested in the remedies offered by IDEA’s administrative procedures and simply wanted to seek compensatory damages for the discrimination, making participation in IDEA’s administrative procedures unproductive.

The United States Supreme Court apparently agreed that requiring a student to participate in IDEA’s administrative procedures when these procedures cannot provide the student with the relief that he is seeking was inappropriate. In the recent decision, Luna Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, 143 S. Ct. 859 (2023), the Supreme Court held that a disabled student who has suffered discrimination no longer needs to participate in IDEA’s administrative procedures when the student is only seeking compensatory damages under the ADA.

Therefore, disabled students seeking redress for discrimination can now bypass IDEA’s administrative process by filing an ADA complaint in federal court that seeks compensatory damages as the sole remedy.

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