Jason Holder, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq., is designed "to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education ["FAPE"]." 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). In Fry v. Napoleon Community School, 137 S. Ct. 743 (2017), the Supreme Court examined an IDEA provision which "addresses the Act's relationship with other laws protecting those children." Id. at 748. While the provision does not limit rights under other federal laws, it provides that "if a suit brought under such a law 'seek[s] relief that is also available under' the IDEA, the plaintiff must first exhaust the IDEA's administrative procedures." Id. (citing 20 U.S.C. § 1415(l)).
Under the IDEA, an individualized education program ("IEP") serves as the primary vehicle for providing a child with a FAPE. Id. at 749 (citing Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305, 311 (1988)). If parents are unsatisfied with an IEP, they can file a complaint with the local or state educational agency (as provided by state law) or "may instead (or also) pursue a full-fledged mediation process." Fry, 137 S. Ct. at 749. Next, the parents may seek a due process hearing appealable to a state agency (if originally conducted at the local level). Id. Only after these steps are completed may a parent seek judicial review with a civil action in state or federal court. Id.
In Fry, the petitioner’s condition meant that she required a service dog to help her live as independently as possible. Id. at 751. The dog, "Wonder," performs myriad tasks including "retrieving dropped items, helping her balance when she uses her walker, opening and closing doors, turning on and off lights, helping her take off her coat, [and] helping her transfer to and from the toilet." Id. Under the existing IEP, Wonder was not permitted to accompany petitioner to school with school officials believing that a human aide rendered Wonder superfluous. Id.