The Most Integrated Setting: Olmstead, Fry, and Segregated Public Schools for Students with Disabilities

By Trevor Matthews. Full text here.

Can school districts force students with disabilities to attend schools that segregate them from their peers without disabilities? Case law resulting from federal special education law, particularly the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), has generally indicated that the answer to this question is yes. In fact, in 2015, almost 150,000 students with disabilities across the United States attended school in separate buildings, completely isolated from their peers without disabilities.

This Note examines the potential for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the integration mandate, and the leading Supreme Court case on the subject, Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel Zimring, to be used to challenge the segregation and isolation of children with disabilities in separate-site schools. It argues that the ADA provides an independent basis from IDEA for people with disabilities to sue school districts for such segregation. It further argues that plaintiffs should be permitted to forgo IDEA’s exhaustion requirements when filing such a suit. Finally, this Note argues that their claims should survive the other foreseeable bars to Olmstead litigation: the states’ ability to rely on reasonable assessments treating professionals and the fundamental alteration defense.