Parents cannot sue Philadelphia School District for issues tied to son's disability

By Carrie Salls | Nov 5, 2018

PHILADELPHIA – The parents of a disabled boy who was allegedly discriminated against when the School District of Philadelphia was unable to place him in an appropriate school for two years cannot claim that they too faced discrimination by association, according to an Oct. 19 opinion issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Pappert said in the opinion that Troy Souders and Melissa McCullough and their son Elijah Souders, who “suffers from visual and hearing impairment and chronic renal failure,” filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against the district, alleging violations of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act.

“Elijah contends the school district did not accommodate his disabilities, isolating him and setting his education back,” the ruling said. “His parents allege the district discriminated against them based on their association with their son.”

Specifically, the court said Elijah’s parents claim they “lost the right to participate in Elijah’s education, suffered physical and social isolation while caring for Elijah during the nearly two-year period when he was not in school, lost quality of life (both for themselves and Elijah’s older sister), earnings, employment opportunities and independence, suffered financially because caring for Elijah interfered with their work, and that Elijah’s delayed progress toward independence increased their future costs and expenses.”

In its motion for a judgment on Troy Souders’ and McCullough’s discrimination claims, the district argued that “Elijah’s parents do not meet the standing threshold for associational discrimination claims under the ADA and RA.”

Pappert agreed, finding that the district’s inability to find an appropriate school for Elijah cannot be interpreted as an added burden on his parents.

“School is not daycare and its purpose is to educate students and, as Elijah expects, continue his ‘progress toward independence,’” the opinion said. “Though many parents, not just Elijah’s, may come to view schools as institutions which provide respite from caring for their children and give them some enhanced social and occupational opportunities, those are (unlike daycare) not reasons why parents send their children to school.”

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School District of Philadelphia U.S. District Court of Eastern District of Pennsylvania

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