This was reprinted from Justia newsletter, January 5, 2023
Doe, a high-school student, suffers from a condition that makes her hypersensitive to the everyday sounds of eating food and chewing gum. Doe’s parents unsuccessfully requested that her school ban students from eating or chewing in her classes. They sued the Knox County Board of Education under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act. While considering their preliminary injunction motion, the district court dismissed the suit, reasoning that Doe’s parents could obtain the requested relief in administrative proceedings under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and had failed to exhaust administrative remedies under 20 U.S.C. 1415(l).
The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded. The IDEA provides relief only to students who need “specially designed instruction.” Because no ordinary English speaker would describe a ban on eating and chewing as “instruction,” her parents did not need to go through the IDEA’s review process to attempt to seek this ban under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. However, Knox County offered significant justification for its policy allowing students to eat in class at the magnet school that Doe chose to attend—a school designed to operate like a college–which the district court must consider in the first instance.