Special Education

State Immunity Denied in Suits Under IDEA, Rehabilitation Act

By Caroline Hendrie — March 22, 2005 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The full 5th Circuit appeals court in New Orleans has narrowly rejected claims by the state of Louisiana that it could not be sued over alleged violations of federal laws protecting students with disabilities.

In a 8-6 ruling this month, the court knocked down a 2003 decision by a three-judge panel of the same court that sided with the state over whether it was entitled to “sovereign immunity” from such suits.

The panel’s ruling had alarmed some advocates of people with disabilities, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division intervened in the case against the state.

The case involves Travis Pace, a high school student with multiple mental and physical disabilities who sued the Bogalusa, La., school district and the state in 1999. Among other claims, the suit alleged violations of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The majority of the full 5th Circuit court agreed that Mr. Pace’s specific claims lacked merit, as the court panel had found. But the court upheld the family’s right to sue the state, rejecting Louisiana’s argument that it had not knowingly waived its constitutional right to immunity from private lawsuits when it accepted federal funds under the IDEA and Section 504.

The source of its confusion, the state contended, was uncertainty in the law over congressional authority to take away states’ immunity from lawsuits under the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Mr. Pace’s family, backed by the Justice Department, contended that the state did in fact give up its immunity. In its March 8 decision, the 5th Circuit court agreed, over the objections of six circuit judges who joined in a dissent written by the author of the panel’s 2003 ruling.

The state, if it chooses to do so, has 90 days to file a request with the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling.


Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Boosting Student and Staff Mental Health: What Schools Can Do
Join this free virtual event based on recent reporting on student and staff mental health challenges and how schools have responded.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
Practical Methods for Integrating Computer Science into Core Curriculum
Dive into insights on integrating computer science into core curricula with expert tips and practical strategies to empower students at every grade level.
Content provided by Learning.com

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education Disability or 'Superpower'? The Push to Change Mindsets About Students With Learning Differences
Advocates are calling for a paradigm shift in how adults perceive, and educate, students with learning differences.
5 min read
Conceptual artwork, imagination dream and hope concept, Superhero boy
Jorm Sangsorn/iStock/Getty
Special Education What We Know About Multi-Tiered Systems of Supports (MTSS), in Charts
More districts and schools are using a tiered system of supports for students, with a focus on social-emotional learning, a survey found.
5 min read
Vector illustration of diverse children, students climbing up on a top of a stack of staggered books.
Special Education New AI-Powered Sensors Could Tell Teachers What’s Really Going on With Students
Researchers are testing wearable sensors that track movement and body language of kids with autism and other conditions.
5 min read
Boy raises his hand to answer a question in a classroom; he is sitting on the floor with other kids and the teacher is sitting in front of the class.
iStock / Getty Images Plus
Special Education Explainer MTSS: What Is a Multi-Tiered System of Supports?
MTSS, or multi-tiered system of supports, is a widely used framework meant to offer students personalized education that meets their needs.
7 min read
Illustration of people climbing stacks of books. There are 3 stacks of books at different heights with people helping people climb up.