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Irving Independent School District v. Tatro in 1984

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  • 0:03 Case Background
  • 0:53 The Lawsuit
  • 1:42 Court Ruling
  • 3:31 Legacy
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

In this lesson, learn how the court case Irving Independent School District vs. Tatro helped define the services a school must provide to students requiring special education.

Case Background

Amber Tatro was born with a birth defect called spina bifida that occurs when parts of a baby's spine do not properly form around the spinal cord. As a result of her birth defect, Amber had a number of health issues including a bladder condition that required catheterization several times a day to prevent kidney damage. Amber began a special education program with Irving Independent School District when she was three years old. The school district agreed to provide her with a number of special services, but refused when her parents requested that the school provide catheterization for Amber. Amber would not be able to attend school if this service would not be provided during the school day. This raised the question of whether Amber was being excluded from receiving an education because of the school's decision.

The Lawsuit

Amber's parents believed that the catheterization should be included in the special services provided by the school, but Irving Independent School District claimed that this service fell outside of its educational requirements. Since the two parties were unable to reach an agreement, the Tatro family filed a lawsuit claiming that Amber's rights were being violated and that the school was required to provide 'related services' necessary for her to receive 'free appropriate public education' as defined by the Education of the Handicapped Act (1975). They argued that Amber would be excluded from school activities due to her disability if this service was not provided. The courts were tasked with determining whether the Education of the Handicapped Act or the Rehabilitation Act (1973) required Irving Independent School District to provide this service during the school day.

Court Rulings

In 1979, the initial ruling in the case of the Irving Independent School District vs. Tatro was delivered. The federal district court ruled in favor of the school. The court held that providing catheterization for Amber was not a related service under the Education for all Handicapped Children Act because it was a medical procedure and not related to educational services. The implication was that a federally funded school did not have to set up medical care under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The Tatro family appealed this decision and in 1980 the ruling was overturned by a court of appeals. According to the court, Amber's catheterization was a related service under the Education for all Handicapped Children Act because Amber would not be able to receive an education without this service. This meant that federally funded schools were in violation of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and were excluding a child from being educated if they refused to provide medical procedures necessary for attendance. Since the court of appeals considered the school district to be in violation of the Rehabilitation Act, they were ordered to pay attorney fees to the Tatro family.

Due to the conflicting court decisions, the case was further appealed and settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1984. The court ruled that the Irving Independent School District was required to provide catheterization services for Amber during school hours. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling that the catheterization was considered a related service under the Education for all Handicapped Children Act. However, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the ruling in regard to the Rehabilitation Act, stating that Irving Independent School District was not in violation of this act and therefore not responsible for paying the attorney fees of the Tatro family.

Legacy

Irving Independent School District vs. Tatro was the first legal attempt at distinguishing between 'school health services' and 'medical services' and required the U.S. Department of Education to define the terms in more detail. The department defined school health services as those that can be provided by school nurses or other qualified persons. Medical services were defined as services that are required to be performed by a licensed physician.

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