A Win for Educational Rights for the Differently Abled

Education Supreme Court

Marble Falls      Any time you stumble on a news item where the Supreme Court has a unanimous decision in these contentious times, given their fierce ideological divides, it’s almost worth a happy dance just for the heck of it.  When it actually does the right thing, and does it for people who need the right thing done, it’s worth a full-on celebration.

Here’s the deal.  The court ruled in the case of a young deaf student from Michigan that he has the right to sue his school district for damage done to him by their failure to meet his educational needs.  According to the story in the Wall Street Journal,

In 2017, the parents filed a complaint under the IDEA [the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act], a federal law dating from the 1970s which sets out procedures for disabled children to obtain an appropriate education. In a settlement, the Sturgis schools agreed to send Mr. Luna Perez to the Michigan School for the Deaf, where annual tuition exceeds $40,000, and pay for additional postsecondary education so that he and his parents could learn sign language.

The court had also ruled in another unanimous decision in that same year that the IDEA “requires that schools provide more than merely a bare-bones education to disabled students.”  The current decision allows this young man to now sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “to obtain compensation for past harms, lost income and emotional distress…from an inadequate education….”

The online version of this report quotes the superintendent of the Sturgis, Michigan school district that this case has been a “learning experience.”  That’s nicely stated, but this decision is so much more than that, because it’s a warning shot across the bow of every publicly funded school in the United States that they have to do better up front for children with special education needs, or they better be prepared to pay big time on the back side for the damage they do to these children’s future.

Anyone who has ever sat through the pain and frustration of filling out an annual Individual Education Program (IEP) for their children will applaud this decision.  It’s impossible to live through the experience in most cases without boiling anger, because even as you sit through the counseling and sign the form, you know it’s inadequate.  You need to do your best for your children, but you are caught between a rock and a hard place, knowing if you do what the Perez’s did and file a complaint and get a lawyer, it might help children in the future, but it won’t do anything for your child.  Now, with this decision, there’s hope that if you sue under the ADA after exhausting the IDEA remedies, there might be real educational justice for your child.

It’s heartbreaking to read about the number of charter school operators who get dinged on trying to not admit disabled children, or once they have them on board, trying to push them out, or do as little as possible.  Living in New Orleans, where since Hurricane Katrina the schools have been characterized, this is a constant refrain.  It cost money, and as privatized outfits, they don’t want to pay.  Their lawyers better be reading about this case, because if they are worth their license, they better be warning the school operators that if they don’t do right on the front end, the payday for damages could be astronomical.

Charter or not, parents will finally have real leverage when the word gets out about these decisions.  It will force teachers and administrators to really read the IEPs and listen to the parents as they advocate for what their children really need, rather than having to settle for what little bits the schools want to offer.

Thanks to Miguel Luna Perez and his parents for taking this all the way.  Yes, you’re hearing me, and I’ll stand by it, no matter how rare it is these days to see a win for the people out of that gang:  thanks to the US Supreme Court for all coming together and doing the right thing for a change.