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Lang v. Oakridge Public Schools

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

September 27, 2019


          Hon. Paul L. Maloney Judge.


          Ray Kent United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is now before the Court on a motion for summary judgment and to dismiss filed by defendants (ECF No. 17).

         I. Plaintiffs' complaint

         A. The parties

         The plaintiffs in this case are Robert Lang, Susan Lang, and Anastasia Lang. Plaintiffs Robert Lang and Susan Lang (sometimes referred to as the “Parents”) are the father and mother of Anastasia Lang (sometimes referred to as the “Student”). Compl. (ECF No. 1, PageID.1). The defendants are the Oakridge Public Schools (sometimes referred to as the “District”), the Oakridge Public Schools Board of Education, James McVoy (an administrator of the District's education programs and services), and Kurt Kiesgen (a teacher and athletic coach at the District). Compl. at PageID.4-5.

         B. Plaintiffs' allegations

         Plaintiff Anastasia Lang was 19 years old when the complaint was filed. Id. at PageID.3. She “has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder and other mental and emotional health issues which significantly limit her ability to communicate, learn, concentrate and self-advocate, and/or is regarded as having such impairments.” Id. While Anastasia attend school in the District, plaintiffs engaged in “protected activity, ” seeking educational planning, supports, accommodations, and modifications to help her achieve equal access to the education environment. Id. at PageID.5. The “recommended supports and modifications needed” for Anastasia included sensory integration tools and accommodations, such as a “safe space” accessible to her at all times to reduce stimuli in order to prevent or manage anxiety and sensory overload. Id. Plaintiffs allege that defendants discriminated against Anastasia by:

denying her the opportunity to participate in or benefit from educational opportunities and services; providing her with an opportunity to participate or benefit that was unequal to that provided to others who did not suffer from sensory integration dysfunction, autism spectrum disorder, and emotional impairments; providing a benefit or service that is not as effective as that provided to other students; providing lower quality benefits, services or programs than those provided to others; and/or providing different or separate benefits or services than those provided to others.

Id. at PageID.5-6.

         Plaintiffs claim that defendants did not comply with their responsibilities under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §12203 and 28 C.F.R. §35.134 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”), 29 U.S.C. § 794(a) and 29 C.F.R. § 33.13, “to make accommodations and modifications to address the needs of the Student and other students with disabilities.” Id. at PageID.6. In addition, “[t]he benefits or services provided to [Anastasia] were not equally effective as those provided to other students as they did not afford [her] an equal opportunity to obtain the same result, gain the same benefit, or reach the same level of achievement as other students.” Id. Defendants also used discriminatory policies, practices and procedures which discriminated against students with disabilities or had the effect of “defeating or impairing accomplishment of the objectives of the education program in regard to students with disabilities.” Id. Defendants also discriminated against Anastasia with policies, practices and procedures “regarding [her] movement in the building and access to accommodations and modifications, as well as regarding discipline for alleged violations of rules resulted in discrimination against [her] and other students with disabilities, subjecting her to punishment for attempting to access accommodations and modifications and then prohibiting access to needed accommodations and modifications during the disciplinary process.” Id. at PageID.6-7.

         Defendants also “engaged in prohibited retaliation and discrimination by mocking, harassing, and punishing [Anastasia] when she attempted to access the agreed upon sensory tools and accommodations and by preventing her from accessing a ‘safe space' when needed and as agreed upon.” Id. at PageID.7. In this regard, Anastasia “was formally disciplined on at least two occasions for attempting to access accommodations and modifications.” Id.

         Plaintiffs alleged that defendants' retaliatory action was sufficient to deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising his or rights. Id. In this regard, Anastasia “struggled to be present in the school environment, ” “often ended up having to leave or not attending school at all, ” and “experienced extreme anxiety, fear, and depression as a result of the hostile environment at Oakridge, leading to increased self-injurious behaviors and suicidal thoughts, ideations, and behaviors.” Id. Plaintiffs alleged that a causal connection existed between the protected activity and the retaliatory action “based on an unusually suggestive temporal proximity between the protected activity and the retaliatory action, and/or a pattern of antagonism contemporaneous to the actions which the Langs [the Parents] were taking to secure and enforce [Anastasia's] rights under state and federal law.” Id.

         In ¶¶ 33-37 of their complaint, plaintiffs set forth the actions which they took with respect to defendants:

33. Because of the severity of the harassment and discrimination, Plaintiffs removed Student from Oakridge schools during the 2015-16 school years. During that time, Student attended a virtual academy and failed to earn credits needed to advance from grade to grade and toward obtaining a high school diploma.
34. Plaintiff Student returned to Oakridge schools in the fall of 2016, but continued to experience discrimination and harassment. Plaintiffs filed a civil rights complaint on or about January 17, 2017.
35. That OCR complaint was resolved on or about October 2, 2017 through a voluntary Resolution Agreement with the District. Plaintiffs did not agree to this resolution, which required the District to convene an IEP team meeting no later than December 15, 2017 to review provision of services and supports and to consider and provide compensatory education not later than February 16, 2018.
36. Oakridge convened an IEPT meeting as agreed, but did not provide real consideration to services, supports or compensatory education and determined that no compensatory education was due to Student.
37. As a result of the continued hostility, harassment, denial of access and opportunity, Student left Oakridge in fall of 2017 and enrolled in an adult education program in a neighboring district where she continues to be enrolled and receive education services.

Id. at PageID.8.

         C. Plaintiffs' claims

         Plaintiffs' complaint consists of two counts. In Count I, plaintiff Anastasia Lang claims damages for discrimination “Based on disability and denial of equal opportunity and access to appropriate educational services, as guaranteed by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12132 and 28 C.F.R. § 35.130 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a) and 34 C.F.R. § 104 (Section 504).” Id. PageID.9 (emphasis omitted). Specifically, plaintiffs allege that defendants discriminated against Anastasia:

a. By failing to fully acknowledge and provide appropriate accommodations for Student's sensory and emotional needs;
b. By failing to implement the agreed upon educational plan or to provide services and supports needed; [and]
c. By failing to provide needed accommodations and modifications and preventing Student's equal access and opportunity to benefit from educational benefits and services, including her ability ...

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