In Daubert v. Lindsay Unified School District (9th Cir. – July 25, 2014) 1:09-cv-1463 GSA, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of the school district’s motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff claimed that the school football field public bleacher seating’s lack of wheelchair accessibility violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  In that instance, the bleachers were accessible only by stairs and the other viewing locations were not on the field.

On appeal, the court held that the District did not have to structurally alter the bleachers to provide access. Since the bleachers were constructed before the ADA’s January 26, 1992 enactment date and was never reconstructed or altered, it constituted an “existing facility” under the ADA. As such, the District need only provide program access by “operating each service, program, or activity so that (. . .) when viewed in its entirety, (it) is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.”  (emphasis added)

Importantly, the court interprets Title II as making a clear distinction between “facilities accessibility” and “program accessibility.”  The District need only provide access to the program.  Here, the public “program” being offered by the District is only the football game, which the bleachers are just part of the “facility” in which the program takes place.

In Daubert, the District had three other specific locations from which persons using wheelchairs are able to watch the games.  Daubert, however, challenged that the alternative locations relegated him to an “inferior view” of the field and denied him a particular social experience.

The court, however, reiterated that the program offered is the football game, to which, the social experience is merely incidental to this program. Additionally, in this matter, it was undisputed that the views were unobstructed in at least three of the alternative locations.

Citing the Supreme Court ruling in Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 532 (2004), the court explained that “[i]n the case of older facilities, for which structural change is likely to be more difficult, a public entity may comply with Title II by adopting a variety of less costly measures . . ..”  Structural changes in existing facilities are not required where other methods are effective in achieving compliance. [citing 28 C.F.R. Sec. 35.150(b)(1).]  ​

The Leigh Law Group is a law firm located in San Francisco and Marin County focused on education law, special education law, civil rights, employment law and business law.

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Audio Taping the IEP: Know Your Rights

Audio Record the IEP Meeting.

While the IDEA, the federal laws protecting special education rights, doesn’t specifically mention audio recording, California law does allow audio recording of an IEP.  Each state may have its own laws related to IEP audio recording.

Know that in California at least, you can audio record an IEP if you give the school district advance notice (at least 24 hours notice in writing).  This can be helpful if you are nervous about getting accurate notes of the meeting and if you want to create a record of what was actually said.  It also can be helpful later on if you get into a dispute with the district.  If you audio record the IEP, the District can also audio record.

Audio recording is allowed in California.

California Education Code §56341.1.(g) states:

(1) Notwithstanding Section 632 of the Penal Code, the parent or guardian or local educational agency shall have the right to record electronically the proceedings of individualized education program team meetings on an audiotape recorder. The parent or guardian or local educational agency shall notify the members of the individualized education program team of his, her, or its intent to record a meeting at least 24 hours prior to the meeting. If the local educational agency initiates the notice of intent to audiotape record a meeting and the parent or guardian objects or refuses to attend the meeting because it will be tape recorded, the meeting shall not be recorded on an audiotape recorder.

The audio recording provisions of the Education Code incorporation provisions of federal law. The code  protects the audio recordings under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act specifically incorporating confidentiality provisions from the Act. Any recording of an IEP that is maintained by the school as an education record requires the school district to apply the protections of the Family Educational Right to Privacy Act.

Additionally, pursuant to the Family Education Rights And Privacy Act, the Education Code states that with respect to the audio recording of the IEP meetings, parents have the following rights:

   (i) Inspect and review the audio recordings.

   (ii) Request that the audio recordings be amended if the parent or guardian believes that they contain information that is inaccurate, misleading, or in violation of the rights of privacy or other rights of the individual with exceptional needs.

 

Moreover, to the extent that a school district has a policy about audio recording the IEP, that policy may not be more restrictive than the rights to audio record pursuant to state law and that policy must provide for exceptions to the extent that the audio recording is necessary to comply with the parents right to understand the IEP and make informed decision about the IEP and the IEP process.