Trauma lawsuit proceeds against Compton school district

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Trauma lawsuit proceeds

A federal court has denied [PDF] the Compton Unified School District’s Motion to Dismiss a first-of-its kind lawsuit [PDF], alleging that the District must accommodate students impacted by trauma under federal disability discrimination law.

Public Counsel and Irell & Manella LLP argue in the lawsuit, filed in May, that the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act require the District take into account a student’s trauma history when making education-related decisions.

The complaint defines trauma broadly to include a range of circumstances, to cover students who are victims of physical or sexual abuse, have witnessed family or neighborhood violence, suffer from family hardship, or lack basic necessities, among other circumstances.

The 41-page decision, issued September 29 by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, has both sides declaring an early victory.

The ADA defines disability, in part, as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.”

The Court rejected the plaintiff’s contention that “complex trauma,” defined as “two or more of traumatic events,” without more, constitutes a disability under the ADA.

However, the Court found that the plaintiffs provided sufficient evidence that the impacts of trauma can “result in neurobiological effects constituting a physical impairment,” which limit a range of life activities listed under the Act, including “learning, reading, concentrating, thinking and communicating.”

”The Court simply acknowledges that allegations that exposure to traumatic events might cause physical or mental impairments that could be cognizable as disabilities under the two Acts,” the Court states.

The Court also denied the plaintiffs’ request to certify the case as a class-action lawsuit [PDF], stating more evidentiary support is needed to determine the number of students whom may be eligible for additional supports if the lawsuit progresses. It also denied the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction [PDF], which would have forced the District to immediately undergo training for staff on the impact of trauma on learning.

“Given today’s decision, we look forward to working with the district to expeditiously develop and implement a system of trauma-sensitive support and accommodations that ensure that all Compton students have meaningful access to education,” said Kathryn Eidmann, a staff attorney with Public Counsel, in a news release.