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District Court Addresses Issue Involving Waiver for Enrollment in Honors/AP Classes

By on September 26, 2017 in Special Education/504 with 0 Comments

The North Valley Regional High School District had a policy in which students could enroll in Honors or Advanced Placement classes by obtaining a teacher’s recommendation. Without a recommendation, a student could “waive” into such a class if the student and parents sign a document stating that they understand the requirements and demands of the course and that no accommodations would be made. Two parents of learning disabled students sued North Valley in federal court seeking injunctive relief. They claimed that the policy discriminated against the students in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. On September 6, 2017, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey in Leddy v. North Valley Regional High School District, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 144517 denied the parents’ request for injunctive relief.

Until the 2017-2018 school year, North Valley’s policy allowed students to take Honors/AP courses without a teacher’s recommendation if:

(1) the student is enrolled in an honors course with a minimum cumulative grade of C+ or is enrolled in a CPE course with a minimum cumulative grade of B+; and

(2) the student and her parent sign a preprinted waiver form certifying that the student understands the requirements and demands of the honors/advanced placement course and is willing to enroll in the course without the recommendation of the faculty and that department. The student further understands that no accommodations or curricular adjustments will be allowed per academic year.

For the 2017-2018 school year, North Valley removed the “no accommodations or curricular adjustments” language from the policy.

The students in this case are learning disabled and have individualized education plans (“IEPs”). The parents argued that for the years prior to the 2017-2018 school year, the school district’s policy violated the ADA by discriminating against students with disabilities because the policy forced them to forfeit their statutory right to accommodations under their IEPs.

The District Court rejected the parents’ argument because the specific facts in this case did not indicate that the policy was intended to or actually read in a manner in which students gave up their right to accommodations under another statute. The parents failed to set forth any evidence that North Valley denied a student in an Honors or AP class of any accommodation to which the student was entitled by his/her IEP. Further, the District Court found that the student in question was not actually required to sign the waiver but received a teacher recommendation, and therefore, the waiver requirement did not exclude the student from an Honors or AP course. In addition, the District Court reasoned that in this particular case, the term “accommodations” is an ordinary English word not limited to the context of anti-discrimination laws. The District Court concluded that the waiver was intended to inform parents that the demands or requirements of an Honors or AP class would not be changed if a student struggled in the course but does not mean students forfeit any statutory rights.

This case must be interpreted with caution, as the decision was highly fact-sensitive and dealt with a parent’s request for injunctive relief. School districts in New Jersey constantly face the challenge of balancing the rights of students with disabilities and maintaining the integrity of advanced courses. Districts should consult with their school board attorney to ensure that their policies related to Honors/AP courses are consistent with the ADA and any other laws applicable to students with disabilities.

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Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev

About the Author

About the Author:

Sanmathi (Sanu) Dev, Esq. concentrates her practice on the representation of boards of education and charter schools in all areas of school law including: labor and employment, special education, Section 504, student discipline, FERPA, Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, student residency, civil rights, tenure, OPRA, and OPMA. In connection with these representations, she is experienced in handling matters before State and Federal courts, including the Office of Administrative Law. Ms. Dev is an experienced special education litigator and defends school districts in due process hearings from inception through trial. In addition, she has handled matters before governmental agencies, including the U.S. Office for Civil Rights and New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. Ms. Dev routinely conducts training and seminars, drafts policies and manuals, and provides strategic advice to school administrators regarding school law issues. Ms. Dev was recently recognized as one of South Jersey’s Awesome Attorneys as published by South Jersey Magazine. She is licensed to practice law in New Jersey, the District Court for the District of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

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