Eugene J. Nelson, as Parents and Next Friends of C.N. a Minor; Lisa J. Nelson, as Parents and Next Friends of C.N. a Minor, Plaintiffs - Appellants,
Charles City Community School District, Defendant-Appellee.
Submitted: February 15, 2018
from United States District Court for the Northern District
of Iowa - Waterloo
SMITH, Chief Judge, MURPHY and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges.
COLLOTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
and Lisa Nelson, as parents and next friends of their
daughter C.N., sued the Charles City (Iowa) Community School
District. They alleged that the District violated § 504
of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794(a), when it
failed to make reasonable accommodations for C.N. while she
was a student. The district court granted summary judgment for
the District, reasoning that the Nelsons failed to exhaust
their administrative remedies as required under the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. We
parties dispute some of the facts in this case; they also
have conflicting views on whether factual findings of the
Iowa Department of Education in a prior administrative
proceeding should have preclusive effect in this action. For
purposes of this appeal, we adopt the approach most favorable
to the Nelsons. We assume without deciding that the
Department's factual findings that favor the Nelsons
preclude relitigation of the same facts here, and we consider
other disputed facts in the light most favorable to the
attended a school in the Charles City Community School
District for ninth grade during the 2013-2014 school year.
When Lisa Nelson registered C.N., she reported under
"Medical Conditions" that C.N. had polycystic
ovarian syndrome ("PCOS") and depression. C.N. was
absent frequently from school due to depression and
complications from PCOS. On April 29, 2014, the District
submitted a Truancy Referral Form regarding C.N. to the Floyd
County Attorney. The Nelsons met with representatives from
the District for a truancy mediation on May 22, 2014. The
parties agreed that C.N. would obtain a mental health
evaluation, and attend school through the end of the school
year, summer school, and subsequent mediations.
the May 2014 mediation, Mrs. Nelson began to inquire about
online educational opportunities for C.N. At a truancy
mediation in July 2014, school officials encouraged Mrs.
Nelson and C.N. to apply to the Iowa Connections Academy, an
online educational opportunity offered through the CAM
Community School District based in Anita, Iowa. Mrs. Nelson
elected not to proceed with that option, and applied instead
to the Iowa Virtual Academy, an online educational program
through Clayton Ridge Community School District in
Iowa law, through a process called open enrollment, parents
may apply to enroll their child in a school district other
than their own. See Iowa Code § 282.18. On July
26, 2014, Mrs. Nelson filed an open enrollment application
with the Clayton Ridge District for the 2014-2015 school
year, seeking permission to enroll C.N. outside the Charles
City District. The application deadline was March 1, 2014,
but Mrs. Nelson asserted that she had "good cause"
for applying late. She represented that C.N. "was
bullied, but more importantly has health issues that
interfere with attendance, PCOS & depression."
superintendent of Clayton Ridge District recommended denying
the application as untimely. He expressed willingness to
reconsider, if the Charles City District recommended
approval, but the Charles City superintendent also
recommended denial. He noted that the application was
untimely, and that the Charles City District had its own
online classes in which C.N. could enroll.
Nelsons took the matter to the Charles City Board of
Education, but the Board voted in early September 2014 to
deny the open enrollment application. The Nelsons then
appealed to the Iowa State Board of Education under Iowa Code
§ 290.1. The State Board ruled in favor of the Nelsons
in February 2015 in the open enrollment proceedings:
[Mrs. Nelson's] application for open enrollment was the
direct result of the [Charles City District] facilitating her
open enrollment application because they could not meet the
needs of C.N. [Mrs. Nelson] did exactly what administration
told her to do. She has a right to expect that the district
would recommend that the board approve her request,
especially when [Mrs. Nelson] and C.N. are involved in a
criminal truancy prosecution initiated by Charles City.
the State Board approved the open enrollment application,
Mrs. Nelson sought to enroll C.N. in the online program
through the Clayton Ridge District. But the program's
representatives told Mrs. Nelson that because the school year
was already ...