In a decision that parents of children with disabilities are celebrating–and has ramifications for American families that decide to exercise their right to due process— today the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Miguel Luna Perez, a deaf student from Michigan, wasn’t required to exhaust administrative procedures available under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in order to get to federal court.
Perez, who is now 24, attended Sturgis Public School District for 12 years. During that time the school district either failed to give him a sign language interpreter, or the one assigned to him was chronically absent, or the aide didn’t know sign language. His parents, who emigrated to the United States when their son was 9, relied on his school’s report cards to monitor his progress but teachers inflated his grades. It wasn’t until graduation that they learned he didn’t earn a high school diploma but only a “certificate of completion.” At that time Perez knew almost no American Sign Language and communicated through signs he had invented that no one else besides his family understood.
Perez’s parents sued the district and Michigan Department of Education under both IDEA, which mandates that schools provide students with disabilities with a “free appropriate public education,” and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which forbids discrimination against students with special needs. The district settled their IDEA claim by agreeing to send him to the Michigan School for the Deaf. But a lower court ruled that they couldn’t pursue their ADA claim in federal court until they had gone through the multi-layered administrative process and this ruling was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The Supreme Court overruled that court. Justice Neil Gorsuch said, according to the SCOTUS Blog,that the ADA claim filed by the Perez’s seeks seeks compensation for the emotional distress and lost income resulting from the school district’s failure to provide him with a qualified interpreter – “a remedy,” Gorsuch noted, “everyone before us agrees IDEA cannot supply.” While he sympathizes with school districts who want agencies with “special expertise” to deal with these sorts of claims, “that is not enough to overcome the text of the IDEA.”
The Biden Administration had urged the SCOTUS to side with Miguel Perez.