On July 28, a group of about 100 students with disabilities filed a class action lawsuit against all state education departments and virtually every school district in the country, including Illinois school districts. The complaint, which was filed in New York, alleges that the defendants, including the school districts, denied students with disabilities their rights under the IDEA, Section 504, the ADA, and a federal civil rights law named Section 1983. The complaint alleges that school closings and the move to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic deprived students of FAPE and discriminated against students with disabilities.
The lawsuit, J.T. v. DeBlasio, points to the fact that numerous school districts sought IDEA waivers during remote learning as evidence that districts knowingly failed to provide FAPE to students with disabilities. The complaint also argues that a switch from in-school to remote learning constituted a change in placement in violation of IDEA’s “stay put” provision.
The students and parents seek either an immediate reopening of schools to implement a substantially similar educational program, or alternatively a “pendency voucher” allowing the students and parents to “self-cure” the alleged violations of the school districts. Additionally, the students and parents seek an independent evaluation on the impact remote learning has had on students (and if warranted, the modification of existing IEPs). The students and parents also seek compensatory and punitive damages.
This class action faces many substantive and procedural hurdles. In particular, a “class” of plaintiffs needs to have a narrow set of facts and injuries in common. We believe the class here is too broad to be certified by a court (a necessary procedural hurdle). Even if it were certified, the allegations fail to show how students with disabilities were impacted any more than students without disabilities, a necessity for a discrimination claim.
Unless your district is officially served or sent a copy of the complaint, there is no need to respond to it at this time. Contact Pam Simaga for any questions about this lawsuit, or contact any of our special education attorneys to discuss COVID-related special education matters.