Supreme Court Declines Schools' Appeal
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The U.S. Supreme Court declined on March 3 to hear appeals from two California school districts of lower-court rulings that held that the Americans With Disabilities Act requires Computer-Assisted Realtime Transcription (CART) interpreting services for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. In August of last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (which governs the Western states) ruled in favor of the plaintiff (No. 11-56259) in K.M. v. Tustin Unified School District, along with a similar case, D.H. v. Poway Unified School District, providing a victory for students who are deaf and hard of hearing to gain access to CART interpreting as accommodation in mainstream K-12 classrooms. The Supreme Court's refusal to hear the rulings means that the Ninth Circuit's decisions that the ADA requires CART interpreting in schools will stand.
AG Bell filed an amicus brief in the case in support of K.M., a high school student who is deaf and uses cochlear implants and speechreading to communicate. Click here to read about AG Bell’s reporting on the cases. The cases have been remanded for trials, and AG Bell will continue to monitor developments in the cases. Click here to read about the latest developments on these cases.
Paving the Way for Classroom Access
“This groundbreaking case paves the way to ensuring that students who are deaf and hard of hearing receive CART as an academic accommodation so they can gain equal access to information and discussion in the classroom,” said AG Bell President Donald M. Goldberg, Ph.D., CCC-SLP/A, FAAA, LSLS Cert. AVT.
The student in the case, K.M., was diagnosed at 13 months with bilateral severe to profound hearing loss. Her parents chose a listening and spoken language outcome for her, and K.M. received a cochlear implant in her right ear when she was 3 years old and then received a second cochlear implant at age 15.
After her seventh grade teacher noted that K.M. was “lost” during class discussions, the family requested that her school district provide her with CART for her classes. The school denied the accommodation noting that as long as a student with a disability is passing her classes, no accommodation is necessary under precedent interpreting the IDEA. The family filed an unsuccessful due process compliant.
K.M. brought suit against the school district in a federal court in California not only under IDEA, but also under the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. While the district court was sympathetic to K.M., the court agreed with the school district that as long as K.M. was passing her classes, no further accommodation was necessary.
K.M. appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, at which time AG Bell filed an amicus brief with the court in her support. AG Bell argued the ADA’s standard is different from that of IDEA, and that CART interpreting is necessary for students who are deaf to receive full and equal access in the classroom. AG Bell also noted that courts have held that captioning is necessary for access for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing in a variety of contexts, such as for watching movies and participating in courtroom proceedings. AG Bell argued that access for the classroom was no different. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) also filed an amicus brief in the case essentially agreeing with AG Bell’s arguments.
"This case sets a national standard for all public schools requiring them to give requests for CART by students who are deaf or hard of hearing primary consideration as an auxiliary aid when needed to provide equal and effective communication access. Public schools can no longer hide behind the IDEA which only requires a basic floor of opportunity," said attorney David M. Grey, who represented K.M. and another student in the case.
School districts may have an uphill battle trying to prove they’ve complied with federal law when they deny CART to a child with hearing loss, given the DOJ guidance on the issue and the similar Argenyi v. Creighton case, noted Steven Rech, a former AG Bell board member who wrote the Argenyi amicus brief for AG Bell. This brief was written with assistance from Mark Merrell, both of Schwartz, Junell, Greenberg & Oathout LLP in Houston, Texas. AG Bell is grateful for their assistance.
The K.M. brief was written and filed by Molly Askin of Baker Botts LLP in Washington D.C. Askin has been previously involved in AG Bell’s amicus efforts in the 9th Circuit with success. AG Bell is grateful to Askin and Baker Botts for their assistance.