School district did not discriminate against disabled student when it denied the student’s request to waive residency requirements

In H.P. v. Naperville Community Unit School District No. 203, No. 18-2272 (7th Cir. 2018), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that Naperville Community Unit School District No. 203 (District) did not discriminate against a disabled student when it denied her request for reenrollment in the District after she moved to another school district.

The student, H.P., attended a high school in the District for her freshman, sophomore, and junior years of high school.  In 2016, during her junior year, H.P.’s mother committed suicide.  H.P. then moved to her father’s home, which was located within the boundaries of a separate school district.  H.P. completed her junior year in the District.

Nevertheless, before the 2017-2018 school year, the District learned that H.P. no longer lived within the boundaries of the District.  H.P.’s father asked the District to allow H.P. to attend her senior year at the high school that she previously attended, but the District denied the request.  The District denied the request on the basis of its residency policy, which provided that “a student must establish residency within the School District boundaries in order to attend a School District School.”

The District also denied H.P.’s request that it waive its residency requirement as an accommodation for certain disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, which disabilities included anxiety, depression, and epilepsy. H.P. thus enrolled in the school district in which she resided, and she graduated high school following the 2017-2018 school year.

In July 2017, H.P. filed a lawsuit against the District, asserting claims of discrimination under the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Specifically, H.P. alleged that she was discriminated against on the basis of disparate impact and failure to accommodate. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed H.P.’s disparate impact claim, and it entered summary judgment in favor of the District with respect to H.P.’s claim of failure to accommodate.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the District Court’s order entering judgment in favor of the District.  The court held that H.P. was unable to establish a claim for discrimination under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act, because H.P. was unable to show that the District excluded her from attending the District on the basis of her disabilities.

Specifically, the court noted the District disallowed H.P. from attending a high school in the District solely on the basis its residency policy. The court explained that the residency policy treated all individual non-residents the same, regardless of whether the individual was disabled or not. Thus, H.P. was not able to prove that she was discriminated against “but for” her anxiety, depression, and epilepsy.

Based on the foregoing, the Seventh Circuit’s decision in H.P. shows that school districts have no obligation to waive residency requirements as a disability accommodation when a student’s change in residency is unrelated to his or her disability.  School districts may apply the same residency requirement to students with disabilities that they apply to nondisabled students.

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