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Supreme Court hands victory to public school students with disabilities

The Supreme Court on Tuesday weighed in on a case involving a former Michigan public school student who wants to sue over not getting support in sign language.
Anna Moneymaker
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The Supreme Court on Tuesday weighed in on a case involving a former Michigan public school student who wants to sue over not getting support in sign language.

A unanimous Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a deaf student can sue his school for its failure to provide him a public education tailored to his needs. Because the decision allows for the possibility of two separate lawsuits, it could give parents more leverage in negotiating with public schools over assistance for children with disabilities.

Miguel Luna Perez enrolled in the Sturgis, Mich., public schools starting when he was 9 years old. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, the district was required to give him an appropriate public school education. But instead of providing Perez with aides able to translate class material into sign language, as promised, the aides were not trained in sign language at all, and often were absent from classes.

Because Perez received As and Bs on report cards, his parents thought he was on track to graduate. But toward the end of his last year in high school, they were informed he would not receive a diploma. After the parents filed a complaint with the state, the school district settled the case, agreeing to pay for future training at the Michigan School for the Deaf.

But Perez wanted compensation for past damages — loss of income and emotional distress. He sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which bars discrimination against people with disabilities. That was the technical question before the Supreme Court: whether he could sue for past damages under a different statute.

Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Neil Gorsuch said the answer was yes, he could.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.
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