C.T. Lindman (C.T.) is a child in the Ashland School District (District) in Wisconsin with Type 1 diabetes. Before he entered kindergarten, his parents (Parents) worked with the District to develop a Section 504 plan to accommodate his disability. As part of this plan, the School trained three adult staff members to be "Trained Diabetes Personnel" who were able to administer insulin using C.T.'s insulin pump, respond to alarms from his glucose monitor, and respond to hyper/hypoglycemia. The District also hired Barb Vincent, a licensed nurse, to administer C.T.'s diabetes care.
While C.T.'s kindergarten year went smoothly, conflicts began to arise during his first grade year. Vincent began deviating on occasion from the insulin dosage recommended by C.T.'s doctor, to the head nurse's disapproval. C.T.'s parents also believed that Vincent was the only actual Trained Diabetes Personnel, and that the District did not have two other properly trained personnel. With these disputes and other internal disputes, Vincent resigned. The Parents then placed C.T. in a private Catholic school that had no nurses or any formal plan for children with diabetes.
The Parents sued the District for disability discrimination under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) and under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), requesting damages, and that the court issue an injunction against the District. The federal district court granted summary judgment in favor of the District. The Parents appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Section 504 and the ADA prohibit discrimination based on one's disability. Here, there was no dispute between the parties that C.T. qualified as an individual with a disability. Rather, the dispute came down to whether, by veering from the Section 504 plan, the District discriminated against C.T. The Court looked at what types of deviations from a Section 504 plan would constitute disability discrimination. The Court analyzed similar cases under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) where schools failed to implement exactly individualized education programs. In those cases, minor deviations did not necessarily violate the IDEA. Accordingly, given that Section 504 is more lenient than the IDEA, the Court held that minor deviations from the plan are not disability discrimination. Instead, to constitute disability discrimination, deviations must be so significant that they effectively deny a disabled child the benefit of a public education.
In analyzing whether C.T. was denied the benefit of a public education, the Court noted that C.T. regularly attended classes, performed well in school and did not suffer adverse health consequences at school. The Parents argued that it was discriminatory that the District failed to properly train three Trained Diabetes Personnel and relied only on Vincent. However, the Court found that the Section 504 plan actually only required training of one staff member and, therefore, any failures by the District were minor. Further, these shortcomings did not make C.T. unsafe or deny him the benefit of a public education.
The Court also examined whether the District's refusal to allow Vincent to deviate from the doctor's orders regarding C.T.'s insulin doses constituted discrimination. While the Parents argued that the District should have adjusted C.T.'s doses on a case-by-case basis, the Court held that the District's refusal to deviate from the doctor's orders was reasonable and did not place C.T. in danger. Accordingly, the Court held that the District's deviations from C.T.'s Section 504 plan were not discriminatory.
CTL ex rel. Trebatoski v. Ashland School Dist. (7th Cir. 2014) 743 F.3d 524.