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Private School That Received School Meals From Local Public High School Was Not Recipient Of Federal Funding For Purposes Of Rehabilitation Act Liability
The parents of a student expelled from a private Christian school located in Northern California filed a lawsuit against the school alleging that the school violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when it expelled the student for inappropriate sexual remarks, inappropriate sexual conduct, and other misconduct, which the parents attributed to the student’s Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) prohibits discrimination against a qualified individual with a disability by any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
The private school received no federal financial assistance directly from the state or federal government. However, the private school had an arrangement with a local public high school in which the local public high school prepared meals using National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program funds it received from the California Department of Education and delivered those meals to the private school for distribution to eligible students. The National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program provides free and low-cost meals to eligible students, typically those from low-income families. The parents argued that through this arrangement, the private school received federal financial assistance for purposes of Section 504 liability.
The court disagreed, finding instead that while eligible students of the private school received a benefit from a recipient of federal financial assistance, i.e., the meals from the local public high school, this benefit did not mean that the private school itself was a recipient of federal financial assistance. The court found that the relationship between the federal funding received by the local public high school and the meals received by eligible private school students was too attenuated to create liability for the private school under Section 504. The court dismissed the parents’ claim.
C.G. by and through Graham v. Redding Christian School (E.D. Cal., Mar. 17, 2020, No. 219CV00348MCEDMC) 2020 WL 1275617.
While the private school here was not found to be a recipient of federal financial assistance for purposes of Section 504 liability, this case is an important reminder that accepting state or federal funds may require private schools to comply with, and may create liability under, state and federal laws that these schools may not otherwise be subject to.