By Tim Hull, Courthouse News Service 8/6/2013
Two California school districts must face claims that they improperly denied transcription services to deaf and hard-of-hearing students, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
In separate cases consolidated for appeal, the parents of K.M. And D.H., two hard-of-hearing high-school girls, argued that the districts had violated federal law by refusing to approve a transcription service in the classroom. The Communication Access Realtime Translation service provides a word-for-word transcription of everything said in class via real-time captioning, according to the ruling.
Both K.M., from Tustin Unified School District in Orange County, and D.H., from Poway Unified School District in San Diego County, testified that they can hear much of what goes on in the classroom, but only with intense, energy-draining concentration. The school districts denied the students' requests for transcription services, though they offered other accommodations to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
After losing their administrative appeals, the students took their cases to Federal Court, and both lost again on summary judgment. The district courts in both cases found that the students failed to show that they had been denied a "free and appropriate public education" under the ADA.
In a unanimous reversal Tuesday, a three-judge panel in Pasadena, Calif., reinstated the students' IDEA and ADA claims. It rejected the lower courts' finding that the Title II claim rides on the success or failure of the IDEA claim.
"We do not find in either statute an indication that Congress intended the statutes to interact in a mechanical fashion in the schools context, automatically pretermitting any Title II claim where a school's IDEA obligation is satisfied," Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for the panel.
"Courts evaluating claims under the IDEA and Title II must analyze each claim separately under the relevant statutory and regulatory framework," she added.
The panel remanded the cases to "give the district courts an opportunity to consider the merits of K.M. and D.H.'s Title II claims in the first instance."
"Now that we have clarified that the school districts' position is not correct, we expect that the parties may wish to further develop the factual record and, if necessary, revise their legal positions to address the specifics of a Title II as opposed to an IDEA claim," Berzon wrote.
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