Type of Case: Education Reform; Open Enrollment; Americans with Disabilities

Court: E.D. Wisconsin District Court; Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Number: 14-CV-792 (E.D. Wis.); 17-3266 (7th Cir.)

Filed On: November 18, 2014

Current Status: Settled with some defendants, Seventh Circuit upheld dismissal of other claims

Wisconsin has a state law that permits students to open enroll out of their “resident” school district and attend another public school. Our investigations have discovered that special needs students with disabilities suffer severe discrimination in this program.  The non-resident district (the district the child wishes to enroll in) can create a “two-track” system where they agree to take “regular” students through open enrollment but refuse to take any students with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not permit this sort of discrimination.

WILL filed a lawsuit on behalf of several families whose children were denied open enrollment because they are disabled.  After a lengthy delay, the district court dismissed most of our claims against the school district and the department of public instruction.  The court ruled that even though it is probably illegal for districts to adopt a policy of not accepting any disabled students through open enrollment, the districts in this case did not violate the ADA because, with one exception, the school districts supposedly had good reason for denying the plaintiffs’ applications.

We appealed to the Seventh Circuit, which upheld the lower court’s decision.

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