Court Throws Out a Chicago Teachers Union Lawsuit Challenging Special Education IEP and Section 504 Regulations During the Pandemic

In May 2020, we reported on several lawsuits filed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In one case, the Chicago Teachers Union (“CTU”) filed a federal lawsuit against U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Chicago Board of Education. The lawsuit alleged that the failure to provide waivers or flexibility under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Action of 1973 “impose[d] unnecessary or impossible [] burdens” on large school districts—and thus on CTU members—during remote learning. The CTU sought an emergency injunction against the Chicago Board of Education to not require the review and revision of existing IEPs and Section 504 plans for remote learning for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year, and an emergency injunction against the U.S. Department of Education from enforcing regulations that required the Chicago Board of Education to require the review and revision of IEPs and Section 504 plans.

On June 19, 2020, a federal judge denied CTU’s request for a preliminary injunction against the Chicago Board of Education and Secretary DeVos. In denying CTU’s injunctive relief, the court ruled that CTU’s lawsuit faced significant procedural and substantive barriers and “likely lacks standing to proceed in federal court.” Although the court acknowledged the challenges and difficulties facing teachers, especially those providing remote special education services and supports to students during the widespread pandemic, the court ultimately ruled that CTU’s lawsuit “suffered from legal deficiencies that preclude preliminary injunctive relief” and denied CTU’s request for a temporary restraining order.

Based on the court’s decision, CPS teachers must review existing IEPs and 504 plans and develop remote learning plans for students eligible for special education services during school closures. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered the way in which school districts provide educational services to students, school districts are still obligated to ensure that all students have access to education, and that students eligible for special education and related services receive a free and appropriate public education.

Contact an attorney in our Students/Special Education practice group with questions regarding remote learning plans and the provision of special education services during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Source: Chicago Teachers Union v. DeVos, No. 20-CV-02958, 2020 WL 3404749 (N.D. Ill. June 19, 2020)

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