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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) were established to protect the rights of individuals with special needs, including students, requiring school districts to provide special needs services for them in connection with their education. But that is not what happened with Miguel Luna Perez, a special needs student enrolled at Sturgis Public School District in Michigan. Mr. Perez is deaf, but he did not receive a qualified sign-language interpreter, which prevented him from getting the education he was entitled to and delayed his graduation. 

So, Mr. Perez and his family sued. In a ruling this past March, the Supreme Court agreed with Mr. Perez, confirming his right to sue the school district for damages he received by the failure to adequately provide for his special needs education. In this article, we will provide the details of this case, and discuss what parents should do if they think their children are not receiving proper services from their schools. 

An Unpleasant Graduation Surprise

Miguel Perez was enrolled at the Sturgis Public School District for 11 years. During that time, he was supposed to have a qualified sign language interpreter present and assist him with his special needs education. However, there were times when the District didn’t provide an interpreter and other times when one who was assigned repeatedly failed to show up for his classes. As a result, he was not progressing in his studies. Still, his parents were never advised of this, nor of the failure to provide him with a qualified interpreter. They only found out when they were told that their son would not be receiving a diploma at his graduation ceremony.

Mr. Perez and his family filed an administrative complaint against the District with the Michigan Department of Education, claiming that the District had violated the IDEA and the ADA. The IDEA requires public schools to provide special needs students with a free public education that is appropriate to their needs, while the ADA prohibits discrimination against children with special needs in public schools. However, before the hearing, Mr. Perez settled the IDEA claim by agreeing to attend the Michigan School for the Deaf with the cost being paid for by the District. That left his ADA claims remaining, and Mr. Perez filed a lawsuit in Federal Court seeking monetary damages for lost wages and pain and suffering.

The Supreme Court Ruling

The District filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that the IDEA required Mr. Perez to exhaust all of his administrative remedies before he could file a lawsuit under the ADA. This meant that Mr. Perez would be required to go through the entire administrative process with the Michigan Department of Education. The federal court agreed with the District and dismissed Mr. Perez’s case. The 6th Circuit upheld the dismissal. Nevertheless, Mr. Perez would not give up. 

In a unanimous decision entitled Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, the Supreme Court agreed with Mr. Perez, saying he had the right to sue the District for damages under the ADA, and that he was not required to go through the entire administrative process. The reasoning was based on the fact that the relief Mr. Perez sought, monetary damages for lost wages and pain and suffering, is only available under the ADA and not the IDEA. Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the entire Supreme Court, said that a special needs student does not have to go through the IDEA administrative process to get “a remedy everyone before us agrees IDEA cannot supply.”

What You Can Do for Your Special Needs Child

The IDEA and ADA require your public school district to provide a special needs education for your child. This takes into account the nature of his or her disability, special needs, and educational goals. It can also involve getting an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This written statement will ensure that your special needs child will receive a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. The IEP can cover everything from qualified interpreters and accessible classrooms to additional test time. It all depends on the special needs of your child.

As a result of the Supreme Court case, you can now sue your public school district for violating the ADA without going through the IDEA administrative process. This means that public schools will probably be more conscious of addressing the special needs of their students.

Book a Call with Us to Discuss How We Can Help with the Legal Needs of your Children

At Shaw & Nelson, our team is dedicated to helping special needs students and their parents protect their rights. Your child deserves a free and appropriate education. Contact our office today to schedule an initial consultation.