Equal Access in Schools

By Edwin C. Darden

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that serves one purpose: to protect disabled people from discrimination in the workplace and in other aspects of American life.

One way by which school districts abide is by providing “reasonable accommodations” to a physically or mentally challenged employee, while otherwise treating the person like everyone else.

Deciding whether an accommodation is reasonable means tricky calculations and complicated decision-making that beckons for the help of a school attorney. Superintendents and board members would be wise to heed that cry. A wrong judgment can be costly, embarrassing to explain publicly, and prompt others who might have been silently seething to seek legal recourse.

Wisconsin’s Somerset School District found out the hard way what can happen when schools refuse to bend, losing the major part of a lawsuit filed by first-grade teacher Renae Ekstrand. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that school officials failed to accommodate Ekstrand’s seasonal affective disorder (SAD), violating the ADA in the process.

Before we get to the details of the Ekstrand case, however, a bit of background is required. 

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