New Supreme Court Decision in Disability Case

Last Tuesday, the United States Supreme court sided unanimously with a student who is deaf who sought to sue his school for damages over lapses in his education, holding that he did not need to exhaust his administrative remedies before pursuing discrimination claims in federal court. Experts say this could give parents of students with disabilities more leverage as they negotiate for education of their children.

Here is what happened

Miguel Perez, enrolled at Sturgis Public Schools in Michigan, brought home a great report card, all A’s and B’s, for mostly a decade. However, months before he was set to graduate, his parents learned he would not receive a diploma and that aides the school assigned to him did not know any sign language.

Perez’s family claim school officials misrepresented the qualifications of his aide. Additionally, the aide in later years was assigned to other duties at the school, leaving Miguel unable to communicate with anyone for hours. Perez was pushed through each grade level despite not having a grasp of the curriculum. Miguel’s parents filed a complaint with Michigan administrative court in 2017, saying the school violated state and federal laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The issue before the Supreme Court was whether students may sue a school for damages under the ADA when they haven’t exhausted the administrative process required by the IDEA. Before the complaint was resolved, the Michigan school district offered to settle, agreeing to pay for Perez to attend the Michigan School for the Deaf. Miguel’s family took the settlement.

Then, his family sued the district under the ADA for discrimination, where a federal court dismissed the lawsuit, ruling Perez has not exhausted the required IDEA process because he accepted the settlement. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit agreed, but Perez appealed to the United States Supreme Court in 2021.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Perez did not need to exhaust the requirements of the IDEA process and could pursue a disability discrimination lawsuit for damages directly in federal court, despite having settled his IDEA claims in administrative court. This decision represents a great win for students and parent advocates, which now have stronger negotiating power and clearer legal options when pursuing both education and disability discrimination claims.

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