Supreme Court Punts On ADA, Special Ed

Supreme Court

As the nation’s high court enters its new term, the justices declined to weigh in on what types of spaces the Americans with Disabilities Act covers and what counts as a child’s placement under special education law.

In a slew of orders issued Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would not hear a case brought by a man with visual impairment who argued that vending machines ought to be accessible under the ADA. The court also turned away a claim related to the “stay put” provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The ADA case was brought by Emmett Magee who is blind and sought to use Coca-Cola vending machines at a hospital and a bus station. However, because of the machines’ glass-front design, Magee said he was unable to know what he was selecting and at what price.

Magee alleged that the machines were in violation of the ADA, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit determined that the machines were not subject to the public accommodations mandate of the law because they are not “a physical place open to public access.”

In appealing to the Supreme Court, Magee argued that there is confusion because courts in other parts of the country have found differently. However, by electing not to hear the matter, the Supreme Court has allowed the lower court ruling to stand.

Meanwhile, the high court rejected the appeal of a Seattle family of a student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder who wanted to clarify the IDEA’s “stay put” provision.

Under federal special education law, students have a right to remain in their current educational placement while disputes between parents and schools are being sorted out. The Seattle case questions what qualifies as a student’s current placement.

In the matter, the student known in court papers as N.E. never attended the self-contained classroom assigned in his individualized education program, or IEP, and his parents objected to the placement. Nonetheless, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with the Seattle School District that the self-contained classroom counted as the child’s current placement simply because it was stated in the IEP.

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