School Official Must Defend Pool Closure to Disabled

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A Los Angeles-area school superintendent must defend a civil rights claim after a public school denied disabled students use of the swimming pool at the same time as the swimming and water polo teams continued to train in the pool, a federal judge ruled.
     Sergio Chavira, Jonathan Rivera and Salvador Francia attended special education day classes at El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera between 2011 and 2014. They sued the school district and Superintendent Martin Galindo in June 2015 on civil rights charges.
     U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder on April 4 dismissed several claims against Rancho Unified School District as untimely, but allowed the students’ Section 1983 claims against Galindo in his individual capacity.
     The students attended the high school’s extended school year program on a full-time basis under their Individual Education Plans, which included physical education classes.
     But at the beginning of summer 2012, the district told their parents that special education students could no longer use the high school swimming pool due to lack of resources to pay for insurance, the students say.
     El Rancho High School’s swimming team, water polo team, and summer swimming classes continued as usual, the students say.
     The mother of another special education student filed a complaint in 2013 with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. After investigating, the office found that the district violated the Rehabilitation Act and/or the Americans with Disabilities Act by closing the pool to special ed students.
     To “resolve” the problem, the district instructed the high school to close the swimming pool to everyone in the fall of 2014, the students say, and did so reviewing any of its special ed students’ Individual Education Plans.
     Defendants included the district, Superintendent Galindo and the members of the school board in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
     The district and Galindo successfully sought dismissal of state law claims of general negligence, violation of mandatory statutory duties, and violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, because the students did not timely file a claim for damages with the district within six months.
     The students’ state law claims accrued at the beginning of the summer of 2012 when they were deprived of access to the pool, but they did not file any claims until 2015, Judge Snyder said.
     But the judge rejected the district’s argument that Galindo cannot be sued in his individual capacity on the students’ federal civil rights claim under Section 1983.
     Although school districts and their agents are immune from suit under Section 1983, the students sued Galindo in his individual and personal capacity, under which he is not immune, Snyder found.
     Snyder’s ruling did not address other claims, including violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act, nor the claims against individual board members.
     Attorneys for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment over the weekend.

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