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Minor Deviations from a Section 504 Plan Do Not Violate Section 504

By March 21, 2014April 29th, 2015News

As school districts continue to find more students eligible for services and accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 more litigation regarding Section 504 follows.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which governs Illinois) recently ruled in favor of a school district finding that the district had only mademinor deviations from a student’s Section 504 Plan and that these deviations did not constitute a failure to reasonably accommodate the student’s disability. Further, the court did not find any evidence that the district had intentionally discriminated against the student.

In CTL ex rel. Trebatoski v. Ashland Sch. Dist., 2014 WL 631135 (7th Cir. Feb. 19, 2014), Charlie L(“Charlie”), a diabetic student, and his parents sued his former school district claiming that it discriminated against him on the basis of his disability. The court found that before Charlie entered kindergarten, his parents worked with the Ashland School District (“district”) to develop a 504 Plan to accommodate his disability and enable him to attend public school. The 504 Plan incorporated his doctor’s orders regarding how insulin doses and snacks were to be administered at school and also required the district to train three adult staff members at Charlie’s school as “Trained Diabetes Personnel.” The suit claimed that the district did not follow this Plan and hence discriminated against the student on account of his disability.

Primarily, the court examined the effect of a Section 504 Plan violation. The parents implied that any Plan violation was sufficient for a claim of disability discrimination. However, the court pointed out that circuit courts addressing failure-to-implement claims in cases in which IEPs were required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act had held that minor deviations do not automatically violate the IDEA.

The court further noted that Section 504’s education requirement is less exacting than the IDEA’s. Therefore, the court concluded, for Section 504 Plan violations to constitute disability discrimination, they must be significant enough to effectivelydeny a disabled child the benefit of a public education. The court did not agree that the violations in this case rose to that level.

Rather, the violations constituted only minor deviations from the Plan and disagreements between the parents and the district over how to interpret the instructions from the student’s doctor. Finally, the parents claimed that the district had deliberately discriminated against their son in an effort to drive them out the district. The court did not find evidence to support this contention and likewise dismissed it.

CTL is the first time our federal appellate court has considered this type of claim under Section 504 and represents a major victory for Illinois school districts. Please contact Nancy Krent or Laura Pavlik with your Section 504 issues.