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Verdict finding disabled child cannot qualify for Disability Civil Rights in school is upheld

Jeffrey and Karen Tyler sued the Fowlerville Community School District on behalf of their cognitively impaired daughter, Sarah.  Sarah was molested when a teacher allowed her to study in a private viewing room adjacent to their classroom.  Sarah  was in the eighth grade, but functionally a second grader at the time of the incident and her parents argued that the school system failed to provide her a safe environment, taking into account her disability.

The case was sent to the jury with a foundational issue:  whether Sarah suffered from a disability which is unrelated to her ability to utilize and benefit from the educational opportunities, programs and facilities" of the school.  Her parents argued that it was manifest and uncontroverted that despite her disability, she was utilizing and benefitting from school programs (as required by law). The school argued, however, that  her disability was related to her use of the facilities and therefore she could not qualify for protection under the Persons with Disablities Civil Rights Act.

The jury concluded that Sarah's disability was related to her ability to use school resources, and therefore she could not claim protection under the act.  The Court of Appeals held that since her attorneys had approved the jury instructions allowing the jury to address this question, she could not appeal the propriety of the instruction.  It also upheld the jury's conclusion, under the instruction, since it was not against the great weight of the evidence to conclude that Sarah could not participate in the "general education curriculum."

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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