Miguel Luna Perez of Michigan sued the public school system in Sturgis. Perez is now 27 years old. He is deaf and requires a certified interpreter to understand information.
According to Perez’s lawyers, the school system failed him by failing to provide a certified sign language interpreter. An aide who assisted him did not know ASL. However, she attempted to learn so-called Signed English from a book.
According to his lawyers, she essentially developed a signing system that only she and Perez understood, rendering him unable to communicate effectively with others. The education system also misled his parents into thinking he was on track to graduate from high school. School officials advised his family just before graduation that he only qualified for a “certificate of completion,” not a diploma.
As a result, his parents filed complaints under two different laws. One law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities is the Americans with Disabilities Act. The second statute is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal special education act that ensures public schools meet the educational needs of disabled students. IDEA requires schools to provide special education services to qualified students as specified in the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
IDEA also includes provisions for ensuring that students with disabilities get a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment possible (LRE). FAPE and LRE have protected the rights of every eligible child in the United States.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Perez on Tuesday who sought to sue his school for damages resulting from serious failures in his education, a case that experts believe might give parents of students with disabilities more leverage when fighting for their children’s education. The high court ruled unanimously on Tuesday that Perez didn’t have to finish the IDEA process before bringing a claim for damages under the ADA.
Though the legal question raised by the case is technical, its outcome “holds consequences not just for Mr. Perez but for a great many children with disabilities and their parents,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote.
Unfortunately, Perez is not the only student who has had to take legal action against America’s education system. In 1984, the late Amber Tatro had to petition the court to be able to receive necessary assistance with using the restroom in school.
The school board in Texas had to provide clean intermittent catheterization services during class hours to Tatro, who had spina bifida. The condition prevented her from emptying her bladder independently, so she had to be catheterized every few hours to avoid kidney problems.
The case stands out as the court’s first attempt to define the distinction between “school health services” and “medical services.” For her literal right to use the restroom, Tatro had to petition the nation’s highest court. While no child should be denied access to public education, the fact that if the court hadn’t ruled in her favor, she could have been denied access to an education because of a basic bodily function is outrageous.
Disabled students should have access to the resources they need. In the United States, disabled students have the right to a free and appropriate public education. No student should have to take their school district to court to receive an education that they are supposed to be entitled to.
Fritze, John. “Special Education Clash: Supreme Court Sides Unanimously for Student with Disability.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 22 Mar. 2023, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2023/03/21/supreme-court-schools-student-special-education-clash-perez/11513696002/.
Gresko, Jessica. “Justices Seem to Lean toward Deaf Student in Education Case.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 18 Jan. 2023, https://apnews.com/article/michigan-state-government-education-d10553f4ea6f73eef5585427de0fe370.
“IDEA.” NCLD, The United States Department of Education, 22 June 2022, https://www.ncld.org/get-involved/learn-the-law/idea/.
Roberts, Sam. “Amber Tatro, Whose Suit Gave Rights to Disabled Students, Dies at 42.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Aug. 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/14/obituaries/amber-tatro-whose-suit-gave-rights-to-disabled-students-dies-at-46.html.
Totenberg, Nina. “Supreme Court Hands Victory to Public School Students with Disabilities.” NPR, NPR, 21 Mar. 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/03/21/1165072110/supreme-court-hands-victory-to-public-school-students-with-disabilities.