Special Education Teacher’s Mere Teaching Isn’t Advocacy, Appellate Court Says

By October 2, 2017 News No Comments

In Frakes v. Peoria School District No. 150, a special education teacher brought a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Section 504”) after she received an unsatisfactory evaluation rating which led to her termination during a reduction in force. In the case, successfully defended by Stanley Eisenhammer and Pamela Simaga, Frakes alleged that the feedback in her evaluation interfered with her right to aid and encourage her students in the exercise of their Section 504 rights because she claimed that her teaching style was better for students with disabilities than the teaching style advanced by her evaluator.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that Frakes did not engage in any activity protected by the ADA or Section 504. She merely alleged that her instructional style was preferable for disabled students. However, the court pointed out, nothing in the ADA protects instructional style alone. After all, there was no evidence Frakes objected to her evaluation to advance the rights of her students. Notably, the record showed that she never complained about the treatment of her students. Further, when she submitted a rebuttal to the unsatisfactory evaluation, Frakes wrote that she felt that some of the conclusions were unfair (e.g., when she was marked down for failing to timely prepare an IEP, she blamed technology glitches), but she did not mention her students’ rights or disability discrimination. The court held that, in order to prevail, she was required to show she was asserting the rights of disabled students or challenging disability discrimination. Because she could not show that, the court held, her claim was dismissed.

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