P.F., a minor, by A.F., v. Taylor, No. 17-3266 (7th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Under Wisconsin’s open-enrollment program, a public-school student can apply to transfer from his resident school district to a nonresident district that has available space. The program distinguishes between regular education and special education spaces. If a student with a disability requires special services, a nonresident district may deny the student’s transfer application if it lacks the services or space necessary to meet those special needs. Disabled school children, whose transfer applications were denied because nonresident districts determined that they could not meet the students’ special needs, sued the school districts and state actors under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12132; section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794(a); and the Equal Protection Clause. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Differential treatment of special-needs students does not make the program unlawful. Federal law forbids discrimination based on stereotypes about a handicap but does not forbid decisions based on the actual attributes of the handicap. The program makes decisions based on the actual needs of disabled students, so it complies with federal law. Even analyzing the case as a request for an accommodation, the requested change would fundamentally alter the program; neither the ADA nor the Rehabilitation Act requires fundamental alterations.