Supreme Court OKs deaf student’s discrimination lawsuit against Michigan school district

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The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on March 21 that a deaf former student who accuses a Michigan public school system of failing to properly educate him may move forward with his discrimination lawsuit.

The decision comes as parents nationwide have become increasingly protective of the rights of their children and are taking legal action and demanding accountability from government officials.

Among other things, parents say public schools have lost their focus on properly educating students and are spending inordinate resources on trendy projects such as critical race theory and gender identity education.

But in this case, the justices ruled on a narrow, technical issue involving the interplay of two federal statutes that affect education.

High Court Ruling

The High Court ruled that Miguel Luna Perez, now in his late 20s, is not barred from suing Sturgis Public School District under the federal American with Disabilities Act (ADA), even though he already sued the district under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The IDEA provides that disabled students must be educated according to their specific needs, while the ADA forbids discrimination against disabled individuals.

Perez immigrated to the United States from Mexico when he was 9 years old, and argued that the public schools of Sturgis, Michigan, hindered his education by failing to give him a qualified sign language interpreter.

A school employee who was not familiar with American Sign Language improvised a signing system but the two people were the only ones who understood it, which made it hard for Perez to communicate with anyone else.

The school system allegedly deceived Perez’s parents, leading them to think he was on his way to being awarded a high school diploma but when it came time to graduate they were informed he would be given a “certificate of completion,” as opposed to a diploma.

District’s ‘Shameful Conduct’

The school district’s “shameful conduct permanently stunted Miguel’s ability to communicate with the outside world,” Perez’s attorney, Roman Martinez of Latham and Watkins, told the Supreme Court during oral arguments on Jan. 18.

The family sued under the IDEA and eventually settled the case. Sturgis schools agreed to provide additional educational instruction to Perez, along with sign language lessons for him and his family.

The family then sued under the ADA for monetary damages which the IDEA did not provide for, but the trial court ruled the family couldn’t seek ADA damages. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit affirmed that decision.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in a 10-page opinion that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act “seeks to ensure children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education.”

“Toward that end, the law sets forth a number of administrative procedures for children, their parents, teachers, and school districts to follow when disputes arise.

“The question we face in this case concerns the extent to which children with disabilities must exhaust these administrative procedures under IDEA before seeking relief under other federal antidiscrimination statutes, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.”

Judgment Reversed

Although the lower courts found that a provision of the IDEA blocked Perez from suing under the ADA, “[w]e clarify that nothing in that provision bars his way.”

The judgment of the 6th Circuit “is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion,” Gorsuch wrote.

Perez’s lawsuit now goes back to the lower courts to determine if he is entitled to the damages he seeks.

The Biden administration argued in support of Perez’s position at the Supreme Court hearing in January.

Perez’s lawyer, Martinez, welcomed the new Supreme Court opinion in the case.

“We are thrilled with today’s decision,” he told The Epoch Times by email.

“The Court’s ruling vindicates the rights of students with disabilities to obtain full relief when they suffer discrimination. Miguel and his family look forward to pursuing their legal claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Martinez said.

The Epoch Times has reached out for comment to school system attorney Shay Dvoretzky of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, and Flom.

The case is Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools (court file 21-887).

This article by Matthew Vadum appeared March 21, 2023, in The Epoch Times.