In reversing a district court decision, the 7th Circuit concluded that a student with a rare genetic disorder was not eligible for special education and did not require specialized instruction under the IDEA. The student, who was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), had previously been determined to be eligible under the IDEA under the category of Other Health Impaired, and had received specialized instruction in physical education. During his re-evaluation however, the team noted that the student had achieved many of his specific IEP goals for gym, and was performing at grade level in his classes. The team therefore concluded that the student’s disability no longer adversely affected his educational performance and consequently, the student no longer required specialized instruction under the IDEA.
Following an 8 day due process hearing, an administrative law judge (ALJ) ruled in favor of the parents, crediting testimony from the student’s physician that the student’s medical condition caused pain and fatigue and when it does, the EDS “can affect his educational performance.” This decision was upheld by a federal district court. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, disagreed. In particular, the 7th Circuit emphasized that the standard for determining eligibility under the IDEA was “not whether something, when considered in the abstract, can adversely affect a student’s educational performance, but whether in reality, it does.” The court further criticized the ALJ’s reliance on the physician’s testimony, noting that the physician’s opinion was based almost entirely on information provided by the parent’s mother and that the physician had evaluated the student for only 15 minutes. Moreover, the physician had testified that she had not conducted any testing or observation of the student regarding his educational performance, she had no experience or training in special education, and was not familiar with the school curricula.
As explained by the 7th Circuit “[a] physician cannot simply prescribe special education; rather the [IDEA] dictates a full review by an IEP team.” While it was clear that the student would benefit from related services in the form of physical and occupational therapy, the court noted that “if a child has a health problem ‘but only needs a related service and not special education, the child is not a child with a disability.’” Marshall Joint School District No. 2 v. C.D, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 15946 (7th Cir. Aug. 2, 2010).