[author: James G. Ryan]
Lakay Roberts, a 5-year old schoolgirl who suffers from cerebral palsy, has been banned from using her walker at school. Lakay needs the walker to get around and has used it at Kings Manor Elementary School in Kingswood,Texas, for the past two years. However, as a result to the walker recently collapsing in the school’s parking lot, in front of both school officials and the little girl’s mother, the school’s special education director now insists that Lakay switch to a wheelchair, since “it’s not safe for the little girl to use a walker anymore.”
Mrs. Roberts brought this case to light after she secretly recorded the school’s special education director, Gary Lemley and posted the video to You Tube. When Mrs. Roberts asks why Lakay cannot use the walker, Mr. Lemley responds by stating “I just told you. We don’t think it’s safe any longer.” Mrs. Roberts then asks “if the school plans to take away other children’s shoes if they fall at school”, to which Mr. Lemley replies: “No, ma’am, they’re not using walkers.”
Outraged, Mrs. Roberts now wants to sue the New Caney Independent School District unless it reverses it’s stance on the policy. As support, Mrs. Roberts argues that under the Individuals with Disability Act (“IDEA”), the American Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a school must provide the “least restrictive environment” to accommodate a disabled student. Lakay’s mother argues that the walker serves as the least restrictive means for the child to get around school, and as such, use of the walker is protected by federal law. Aside from the grounds Mrs. Roberts asserts in support of her potential lawsuit against the school, Lakay’s mother has also pleaded with the school to “not trap her in a wheelchair because we’ve worked so hard, she has worked so hard.”
In response to Mrs. Robert’s leaking the recording onto You Tube, the school district has stated that it “does not agree that the recording at issue here is a complete recounting of the entire underlying confidential discussion and is therefore neither representative nor accurate towards explaining the District’s ongoing efforts to serve its students.” The school stands by it’s assertion that Lakay must leave the walker at home in order to assure her safety as well as the safety of other students attending Kings Manor Elementary School.
Can the school legally, under the IDEA, ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, restrict a disabled student from using a device such as a walker and insist that the student use a wheelchair instead? The question is fact sensitive. If your institution would like guidance on this issue or would like further information, please email Jim Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (516) 357 – 3750. *A special thanks to Hayley Dryer, a third-year law student at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, for helping with this post.