(NewsSpace.com) – More than 40 million people in the United States live with some form of disability. Many require additional accommodations to carry out daily tasks. In the public school system, educators are required to provide the tools necessary for students with disabilities to thrive in their environment. However, sometimes they fail the very children they’re supposed to help. That’s what the family of Miguel Luna Perez, who is deaf, alleges happened with Michigan’s Sturgis School District.
The battle has gone all the way to the Supreme Court (SCOTUS), where it looks like the justices appear to be ready to side with the student.
Perez is an immigrant who came to the United States from Mexico when he was 9 years old. When he entered the public education system in the Sturgis School District, he was assigned a classroom aide because of his hearing loss. However, according to the lawsuit filed by Perez’s family, Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, et al, the aide was unqualified to deal with his disability. Newsmax reported that she didn’t know sign language. Though she tried to teach herself, it resulted in a language only she and Perez understood. As a result, he was unable to communicate properly with others.
The lawsuit also alleges the school district failed to accurately update Perez’s parents on his academic progress, and they were stunned to learn he would not be graduating high school with his diploma, but rather a certificate of completion.
ADA vs. IDEA
There are two major laws on the books tailored toward making sure disabled people get the tools they need to succeed. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) is a broader legislation that focuses on discrimination against those who have disabilities. It applies to many areas, including the workplace, public accommodations, transportation, and access to government resources at the state and federal levels. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) centers specifically on public education.
Perez’s family sued the school district, alleging violations of both laws, but a state judge dismissed the ADA claims citing a lack of jurisdiction. The two parties eventually settled the claims pertinent to IDEA violations in which the district agreed to pay for additional education at the Michigan School for the Deaf, which he attended and graduated from in 2020, and any post-secondary institution. It also agreed to pay for the entire family to learn American Sign Language (ASL). However, the family continued pursuing damages under the ADA, this time filing a lawsuit in federal court.
In a federal court, US District Judge Paul Maloney dismissed Perez’s claims under the ADA, saying the plaintiff must exhaust all efforts before pursuing the lawsuit. Since Perez settled with the district on the IDEA claims, the judge determined he had failed to do so. The US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit subsequently upheld Maloney’s ruling, which brought the case to the SCOTUS.
Supreme Court Justices Appear Sympathetic
Oral arguments for Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, et al took place on January 18. Both the conservative and liberal justices seemed to be sympathetic to Perez’s plight. Justice Elena Kagan said it seemed the plaintiff did “everything right.” Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett expressed similar views surrounding the settlement of the IDEA claims, while Justice Neil Gorsuch, another Conservative, indicated the law’s text itself lent credence to Perez’s arguments.
A ruling is expected on the case this June.
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