District was right to deny private therapy provider
March 14, 2022
Although a 7-year-old boy with autism had an established medical need for 40 hours per week of Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, his school district properly denied his private provider from serving him on the public school campus during the school day, according to a United States District Court, Central District of California decision that was discussed in a recent news brief from Lozano Smith.
The Dec. 27, 2021 decision in O.A. vs Orcutt Union School District found no violation of the federal disability discrimination laws at issue when Orcutt USD refused to permit an insurance-funded private ABA therapist from accompanying a special education student (O.A.) on school grounds during the school day, despite the parent’s argument it was a medically necessary accommodation. The District Court found that although a specific service might be both medically necessary and qualify as educationally necessary, a district has no obligation to provide accommodations that are strictly medical. Because O.A.’s parent failed to show the educational necessity of the private provider’s presence at school, Orcutt prevailed in this case.
In the spring of 2020, a private behavioral health company paid through O.A.’s medical insurance began providing O.A. with 40 hours per week of ABA therapy, staffed by two ABA therapists at a time. “Parent” asked Orcutt to allow O.A.’s private ABA therapists to accompany O.A. on campus daily for the full school day. When Orcutt refused, Parent brought a civil lawsuit in federal court, alleging that Orcutt’s refusal constituted disability discrimination in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In defense, Orcutt argued Parent had failed to show that O.A. needed to have his private ABA therapists with him at school in order to enjoy meaningful access to the benefits of a public education. The District Court agreed.
District Court’s decision
Federal law requires a qualifying public entity to “make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures when the modifications are necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability,” as cited by the District Court. To prevail on Parent’s claims, the District Court found that O.A. needed to be: 1) a qualified individual with a disability; and 2) denied a reasonable accommodation necessary to enjoy meaningful access to the benefits offered by Orcutt, a public-school recipient of federal financial assistance.
In Parent’s favor, the District Court found the prescribed 40 hours per week of ABA therapy administered across all settings to be a medically necessary treatment. But the District Court also found that Parent had failed to show the treatment was needed in order for O.A. to enjoy meaningful access to the benefits of school.
When an accommodation request for a special education student is made solely for medical reasons, a public school district may deny that request without violating Section 504 or the ADA, under this District Court decision. Whether a request for a private provider to accompany a special education student on campus is being made for medical or educational reasons, or both, is a nuanced issue that school districts are encouraged to approach with caution, seeking legal advice as appropriate to help ensure defensible outcomes.
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