WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Tuesday against a deaf student who sued his public school system for providing an inadequate education. This case is significant to other students with disabilities who claim they were let down by the school authorities.
The case that the judges ruled concerns Miguel Luna Perez, who attended a public school in Sturgis, Michigan. Pérez’s lawyers told the court that for 12 years the school system neglected the boy and lied to his parents about the progress he was making, permanently limiting his ability to communicate.
The judges ruled that after Perez and his family settled a complaint about the school system — officials agreed to pay for additional schooling and sign language training — they could seek monetary damages under other federal law. Judge Neil Gorsuch wrote in an eight-page opinion for the court that the case “has implications not only for Mr. Perez, but for so many disabled children and their parents.”
Perez, who emigrated to the United States from Mexico at the age of 9, still finds it hard to make himself understood. Pérez’s lawyers say the school system let him down by providing an assistant who was not trained to work with deaf students, didn’t know sign language, and left him alone for hours in later years. According to his lawyers, after more than a decade, Pérez did not know any formal sign language and communicated using invented gestures that were not understood by anyone who was not familiar with his unique gesture.
Meanwhile, the school rewarded him with inflated grades, and his parents believed he was on track to earn his high school diploma. However, shortly before graduation, his family was told that he was only eligible for a “certificate of completion”.
In response, his family filed lawsuits under two laws: the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, and the Persons with Disabilities Education Act. The latter guarantees children with disabilities free public education adapted to their specific needs.
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The Perez family and the school district eventually settled IDEA’s claims. The district has agreed to pay for additional tuition and sign language training for Perez and his family, among other things, and he graduated from the Michigan School for the Deaf in 2020. After the settlement, the family went to federal court and, according to the ADA, sought monetary damages, which is not available under the IDEA.
The lower courts said that Perez was barred from filing ADA lawsuits due to language in the IDEA, but the Supreme Court disagreed. Gorsuch wrote, “We make it clear that nothing” in IDEA “blocks his path.”
The Biden administration also urged the court to side with Peres. Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, 21-887.
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