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Oral Argument Before the Hawaii Supreme Court, SCAP-15-0000520

No. SCAP-15-0000520, Thursday, September 1, 2016, 11:15 a.m.

HAWAIʻI TECHNOLOGY ACADEMY and the DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, STATE OF HAWAIʻI, Respondents/Appellants-Appellees, vs. LINDA ELENTO [DR. NO. 14-017], Respondent/Appellee-Appellant, and HAWAIʻI CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION, Petitioner/Appellee-Appellant.

The above-captioned case was set for argument on the merits at:

Supreme Court Courtroom
Aliʻiolani Hale, 2nd Floor
417 South King Street
Honolulu, HI 96813

Attorney for Petitioner:
 Livia Wang and Lowell K.Y. Chun-Hoon

Attorneys for Respondents Hawaii Technology and Dept. of Educ.:
 Carter K. Siu and Holly T. Shikada, Deputy Attorneys General

NOTE:  Order granting Application for Transfer, filed 12/01/15.

COURT:  MER, CJ; PAN, SSM, RWP, and MDW, JJ.

[ Listen to the entire audio recording in mp3 format ]

Brief Description:

Respondent/Appellee-Appellant Linda Elento’s (Elento) son, a child with Down syndrome, sought admission to Hawaiʻi Technology Academy (HTA), a public charter school administered by the Hawaiʻi Department of Education (DOE). Elento planned to homeschool her son under HTA’s curriculum. It was HTA’s policy that homeschooled children take a grade-level placement exam prior to admission. The school allegedly denied accommodations for the son’s disability while he took the exam.

Elento filed a discrimination complaint on her son’s behalf with the Hawai`i Civil Rights Commission (HCRC). The HCRC executive director did not accept Elento’s complaint based on his analysis of HCRC’s jurisdiction. Elento then filed a petition for declaratory relief with HCRC.

HCRC determined it had jurisdiction to review HRS § 368-1.5 disability discrimination claims brought by applicants or students against public educational institutions. The Circuit Court of the First Circuit reversed HCRC’s decision and order. The case was transferred from the Intermediate Court of Appeals on December 1, 2015.

HCRC argues the circuit court erred by concluding HCRC acted in excess of its statutory authority and jurisdiction because: 1) under the plain language of HRS § 368-1.5, HCRC has jurisdiction over “state agencies” or “programs or activities receiving state financial assistance,” and there is no exception for public educational institutions; 2) the legislative history of HRS § 368-1.5 demonstrates that HRS § 368-1.5 was enacted as the state equivalent to Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act, which regulates student disability discrimination claims against public educational institutions; 3) the language and legislative history of HRS chapter 368 demonstrates that the legislature expressly granted HCRC the authority to enforce HRS § 368-1.5, and that statute is self-executing; 4) HCRC’s enforcement of HRS § 368-1.5 as to student disability discrimination complaints against public educational institutions is not preempted by Section 504; and 5) HCRC’s enforcement of HRS § 368-1.5 as to student disability discrimination complaints against public educational institutions does not conflict with the DOE’s enforcement of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or Section 504, or with HRS chapter 302D, which governs public charter schools.