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Media Alerts - D.L. v. Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners
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February 8, 2013
  D.L. v. Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners
Headline: Baltimore Needn't Provide Special Ed to Boy with Learning Disability Who Attends Religious School

Area of Law: Education

Issue(s) Presented: Whether a public school system must provide special education services to a student with ADHD enrolled in a private religious school.

Brief Summary: D.L. was diagnosed with ADHD and an anxiety disorder. While enrolled in a private religious school, he applied for special education services from the Baltimore City Public School System. The school board determined he was eligible for the services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a civil rights statute for people with disabilities. However, the school board further determined the System would not provide such services unless D.L. enrolled in one of its schools. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed that the System was not obligated to provide special education services to a student enrolled in a private religious school.

Extended Summary: The parents of D.L., a boy diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and an anxiety disorder, enrolled their son in a private yeshiva but sought special education services for him from the Baltimore City Public School System. The System receives federal funding, and thus is subject to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (§ 504), which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in any program receiving federal funding. The school board denied the parents' request for services. In the school board's view, D.L., though eligible for special education services under § 504, was not enrolled in public school and so was not entitled to public education services. The parents filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, where summary judgment was granted to the school board.

On appeal, the parents first argued that the System was obligated to provide tutoring, counseling, and other interventions under the anti-discrimination statute. Second, the parents argued that it would be a violation of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment for the System to require their son to withdraw from the yeshiva to receive the services he needed.

The Fourth Circuit, rejecting both arguments, first concluded that § 504 does not establish an affirmative obligation on the part of school systems to provide special education services to a student enrolled in a private religious school. In reaching this conclusion, the court took guidance from a Department of Education opinion letter which stated that offering an appropriate education is enough; where the parents make a personal choice not to enroll the child in a public school, the school system does not have to foot the bill for additional services. The court also noted all the logistical difficulties that would inhere to coordinating the provision of services across two schools, which have different staffs and schedules.

The Fourth Circuit also ruled that the System had placed no undue burden on the family's exercise of its religion by requiring that D.L. enroll in a public school before he could receive special education services there. The court pointed out that while the board's denial of services might force the family to shoulder the burden of paying for private special education services, the parents still retained full discretion to enroll their child in the institution of their choice. Offering an eligible student special education services upon enrollment in one of the System's schools thus satisfies the § 504 anti-discrimination mandate and does not violate the Free Exercise clause. The System, the court said, does not need to "serve up" its services "like a buffet" from which parents can pick and choose.

Panel: Judges Niemeyer, Gregory, and Thacker

Argument: 10/25/12

Date of Issued Opinion: 01/16/13

Docket Number: 11-2041

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Claire Caplan

Counsel: ARGUED: David G. C. Arnold, West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, for Appellants. Leslie Robert Stellman, HODES, PESSIN & KATZ, PA, Towson, Maryland, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Katharine A. Linzer, LINZER LAW, LLC, Towson, Maryland, for Appellants. Tammy L. Turner, Tiffany Sharnay Puckett, Stephanie J. Robinson, CITY BOARD OF SCHOOL COMMISSIONERS, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee. Francisco M. Negrón, Jr., NATIONAL SCHOOL BOARDS ASSOCIATION, Alexandria, Virginia; John F. Cafferky, Andrea D. Gemignani, BLANKINGSHIP & KEITH, PC, Fairfax, Virginia, for Amici Supporting Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Gregory, J.

Case Alerts Circuit Supervisor: Prof. R. M. Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 02/08/2013 02:17 PM     4th Circuit  

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