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Olson v. Durant Community School District

Court of Appeals of Iowa

July 5, 2018

ALEX W. OLSON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
DURANT COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cedar County, Mark R. Lawson, Judge.

         Alex Olson appeals an order granting summary judgment in favor of Durant Community School District. AFFIRMED.

          James S. Zmuda of Califf & Harper, P.C., Moline, Illinois, for appellant.

          Mikkie R. Schiltz and Wendy S. Meyer of Lane & Waterman LLP, Davenport, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Mullins and McDonald, JJ.

          MULLINS, Judge.

         Alex Olson appeals an order granting summary judgment in favor of Durant Community School District (Durant) on his claims of disability discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. He contends genuine issues of material fact exist as to each of his claims.

         I. Background Facts and Proceedings

         Olson has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, a sleep disorder, and autism. Olson resided in and initially attended the North Scott Community School District (North Scott). Olson and his parents experienced problems at North Scott in relation to educators not following Olson's individualized education program (IEP). Olson was also allegedly harassed by teachers and bullied by other students at North Scott. Olson's father, Allen, was a teacher at Durant's middle school, and he spoke to Durant's high school principal, Tony Neumann, and superintendent, Duane Bennett, about the possibility of Olson attending Durant, although he did not reside in the district. Bennett approved, and Durant entered into a contract for special-education-instruction services with North Scott through the end of Olson's junior year, ending on June 30, 2013. Prior to entering into the contract, Durant was aware of Olson's diagnoses. Olson began attending Durant in January 2012, which was in the second semester of his sophomore year. Durant is a significantly smaller school district than North Scott, with fewer resources. A second contract was subsequently entered into between the schools for Olson's senior year, the 2013- 2014 school year, ending on June 30, 2014.

          Allen's employment with Durant was terminated in the spring of 2013 as part of a reduction in force. After Allen's termination, Olson's parents requested an independent educational evaluation be conducted as to Olson. Durant agreed to the evaluation, and the Olsons selected Alyson Beytein as the evaluator. Beytein completed a behavior consultation report in September 2013 detailing the challenges Olson faces and her recommendations for addressing the same. Beytein submitted a second report in January 2014, in which she noted "Durant . . . has provided sufficient and often extensive accommodations for" Olson, but he "needs support that cannot be given within an educational setting."

         From the onset, Olson was expected to graduate from Durant on schedule at the end of the 2013-2014 school year. However, Olson, had very significant school-attendance issues during his time at Durant, despite multiple changes to his IEP aimed at remedying the same. As a result, Olson was unable to accumulate enough credits to graduate as planned. At an IEP meeting in April 2014, a potential plan was discussed that, if implemented, would allow Olson to attend Durant for another year and graduate in May 2015.

         At an IEP meeting in March 2014, Olson's parents asked Olson's special education teacher, Alan Hartley, who was also serving as Durant's athletic director at the time, whether Olson would be eligible to participate in school sports in the 2014-2015 academic year.[1] Hartley advised the Olsons by letter on April 1 of his conclusion that, based on the Iowa High School Athletic Association's (IHSAA) eligibility rules, Olson's athletic eligibility would end with the 2013-2014 academic year. Hartley further advised the Olsons they could appeal his conclusion to the IHSAA and Durant would allow Olson to compete in school athletics if the IHSAA concluded he was eligible. On May 29, the IHSAA notified the Olsons by letter that it agreed with Durant that Olson was ineligible for further participation in high school athletics. At an IEP meeting in early June, Olson was provided a tentative schedule for the 2014-2015 school year. On June 6, Olson's parents appealed the IHSAA's eligibility decision. Thereafter, on June 11, Bennett notified North Scott's superintendent that Durant would not be entering a new contract as to Olson for the 2014-2015 school year. Bennett testified in his deposition that he decided not to enter into another contract with North Scott because of Olson's lack of progress and poor attendance at Durant, in addition to Beytein's opinion that Durant was unable to provide the services Olson required to succeed. Bennett felt that, because Durant could not provide Olson with the services he needed to succeed, it was his obligation to not renew the contract. On June 13, after Bennett's decision, the IHSAA notified the Olsons by letter of its decision to reverse its prior decision and allow Olson an additional year of athletic eligibility.

         After the contract was not renewed, Olson had the option of returning to North Scott, but he decided not to. After "briefly" looking at other schools, Olson and his parents decided it would be best for him to obtain his GED and then start college. Olson ultimately obtained his GED in the summer of 2014, passing his exams on his first attempt without studying, and started college in the fall. After successfully completing three semesters at a college in South Dakota, Olson transferred to a college in Illinois; he is on course to graduate in 2018.

          Olson obtained a right-to-sue letter from the Iowa Civil Rights Commission in May 2015. In June, Olson filed a petition at law asserting claims of disability discrimination in education under the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA), intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Durant ultimately moved for summary judgment on all claims, and the district court granted the motion. As to Olson's disability-discrimination claim, the court concluded "[t]here are simply no circumstances here raising an inference of disability discrimination in the renewal decision" and Olson is therefore "unable to demonstrate a prima facie case of disability discrimination." As to the intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress claim, the court concluded Durant's conduct was not sufficiently outrageous for the claim to withstand summary judgment. As to the negligent-infliction-of-emotional-distress claim, the court concluded emotional-distress damages are not recoverable in tort in Iowa absent intentional conduct or physical injury, and the exceptions to that rule do not apply in this case. The court denied Olson's subsequent motion to reconsider and this appeal followed.

         II. ...


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