The U.S. Supreme Court, last Monday, held that the not only children with disabilities, but also their parents, are granted “independent, enforceable rights which are not limited to procedural & reimbursement-related matters, but encompass the entitlement to a free appropriate public education for their child.” (Decision)
Additionally, the Court said that “because parents enjoy rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), they are entitled to prosecute IDEA claims on their own behalf” – addressing a recognized, decade old, disagreement among the circuit courts on just that idea.
Jeff and Sandee Winkelman had followed the prescribed administrative procedures in disputing the handling of their autistic son’s formal education in a public school under IDEA auspices, having taken put him in a private school pending resolution of the disagreement and having an attorney assist in certain aspects of the process. They, none-the-less, represented themselves.
Not satisfied with the administrative decision, they filed in Ohio Northern District Court for a reversal of that decision, reimbursement of private-school expenses and costs due the attorney. When the District Court found against them, they filed an appeal, pro se, with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Appeals Court, too, dismissed the case – citing one of its own recent decisions (Cavanaugh v. Cardinal Local Sch. Dist.), where it had rejected the proposition that IDEA allows nonlawyer parents raising claims to proceed pro se in federal courts.
In Cavanaugh, the Sixth Circuit “joined the Second, Third, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits in holding that non-lawyer parents could not represent their child in an action brought under the IDEA,” while “considering and rejecting the reasoning of the First Circuit in Maroni v. Pemi-Baker Sch. Dist. in interpreting the IDEA as including parents as ‘parties aggrieved’ who have a right to bring, pro se, a civil action under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(i)(2)(A), and adopting instead, the reasoning of Collinsgru v. Palmyra Bd.Educ. that the right of a disabled child to a free appropriate public education belongs to the child alone, and is not shared jointly with his parents.”
The full text of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act can be viewed here, with sections on evaluations & eligibility and procedural safeguards here.
The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities, a federally-funding Department of Education project, has this website with more IDEA information. IDEA information is also available on the Department of Education’s website.