Case Lesson: Why Ill. School District Didn't Violate the ADA with COVID-Related Rules

25 Jan, 2022 Frank Ferreri

                               

Elk Grove Village, IL (WorkersCompensation.com) -- While it’s unclear how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last, it’s fairly safe to say that the era of COVID-related litigation has yet to reach its peak.

Recently, a federal case out of Illinois, Firszt v. Bresnahan, No. 21-cv-6798 (N.D. Ill. 01/14/21), explored the interaction between the Americans with Disabilities Act and pandemic-related rules. Although the case involved a student in a school, it provides insight into how courts might address similar issues – such as mask rules and state-level mandates – in other settings, including workplaces.

What Happened?

As schools ramped up to get students back in the classroom for the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, Illinois issued a disaster proclamation that required the use of face coverings by students, staff, and visitors in public schools. The state also required schools to implement other strategies, including testing and quarantining consistent with CDC recommendations.

A parent took issue with the rules and sued, alleging, in part, that the state violated the ADA.

The Law

Under the ADA, it may be possible for people with disabilities to receive an accommodation if they are unable to wear a mask due to a disability.

What the Court Said

The court made short work of the parent’s claims, pointing out that the parent did not provide information about whether the student had breathing difficulties or how the ADA applied to the student. Earlier this year, the Southeast ADA Center produced guidance on when a disability might call for a mask-related accommodation, explaining that the following impairments could qualify:

  • Asthma, chronic pulmonary disease, other respiratory disabilities.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder, claustrophobia, and severe anxiety.
  • Autism.
  • Cerebral palsy.

 

 

 

Additionally, the guidance indicated people who use mouth control devices, such as a sip and puff to operate a wheelchair, might require mask-related accommodations.

The problem with the parent’s charges against the school rules was that he didn’t bring any of these issues up regarding his son’s case and so the court couldn’t analyze whether he had a claim under the ADA.

What’s the Lesson?

In any setting, alleging an ADA claim regarding accommodations requires evidence that the person claiming ADA protections has a disability and that am accommodation existed. In the employment context, the accommodation must allow a worker to perform the essential functions of the job.

In any ADA accommodation case, the focus will be on the disability at issue and how the accommodation levels the playing field for a person with a disability.


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    About The Author

    • Frank Ferreri

      Frank Ferreri, M.A., J.D. covers workers' compensation legal issues. He has published books, articles, and other material on multiple areas of employment, insurance, and disability law. Frank received his master's degree from the University of South Florida and juris doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

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