Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Did the Fry Decision under the IDEA Overturn Rowley?

Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

Did the Fry Decision under the IDEA Overturn Rowley?

Article excerpt


The Supreme Court decided two major cases under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act1 (IDEA) during the 2016-17 term-Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools2 and Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1? The disability community especially awaited the decision in the Endrew F. case because the petitioners had requested the Court to reverse the lower court and reconsider its decision in Board of Education v. Rowley4 by adopting an equal opportunity standard for determining whether an Individualized Educational Program (IEP)5 was appropriate. Although the Endrew F. Court reversed the Tenth Circuit's exceptionally narrow test for determining whether an IEP was appropriate, it declined to reconsider Rowley?

The Fry case received somewhat less attention because it involved the technical, procedural issue of whether plaintiffs need to exhaust their IDEA remedies8 before bringing suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)9 or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504).10 The Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit's ruling that the Fry family needed to exhaust its IDEA rights11 and offered guidance on when exhaustion is required.12 The Fry decision seemingly broadened the situations in which parents could pursue remedies under the ADA or Section 504 without exhausting their IDEA remedies.

Ironically, the Fry decision may overturn the actual holding in the Rowley case-that Amy Rowley, who was deaf, was not entitled to a sign language interpreter in the classroom.13 This article will argue that today, under the Fry holding, a student with a hearing impairment could attain the right to use a sign language interpreter in the classroom by pursuing her remedies under the ADA or Section 504. This article argues that Fry is a very important decision because it will help students attain greater access to effective communication services without exhausting their IDEA remedies. Part ? summarizes the Fry holding and its application by lower courts; Part III assesses the implications of the Fry decision in the context of requests for effective communication, and Part IV concludes.


A. Fry Holding

The Fry case concerns Ehlena Fry, who has cerebral palsy. When she entered kindergarten, the school district provided her with an IEP, which included one-on-one support throughout the day. The parties conceded that she received a free and appropriate public education (FAPE),14 as required under the IDEA, through the various educational services provided under her IEP.15

The dispute between the Frys and the school district centered on whether Ehlena could bring a trained service dog, a goldendoodle named Wonder, to school with her. Wonder was trained to do the following work: "retrieving dropped items, helping her balance when she uses her walker, opening and closing doors, turning on and off lights, helping her take off her coat, and helping her transfer to and from the toilet."1

When this dispute first occurred, the school district agreed to allow Wonder to accompany Ehlena to school on a thirty-day trial basis but, at the end of the trial period, informed the Frys that Wonder was not welcome at the school. The Frys filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) under the ADA and Section 504. OCR rendered a decision in favor of the Frys, but the Frys decided to transfer Ehlena to a new school in a different district because they were concerned that the school administration would "resent" Ehlena and "make her return to school difficult."17 The Frys, however, persisted in their complaint under the ADA and Section 504. They filed a lawsuit in federal court in which they sought a declaration that the school district had violated the ADA and Section 504 and also sought monetary damages to compensate for Ehlena's injuries. Her injuries were alleged to include emotional distress and pain, embarrassment, and mental anguish. …

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