Special Ed Families Can Sue Schools for Damages: What the new Supreme Court ruling means for special education families and school districts

For years, Miguel Perez sat in his classes at a small school in Michigan in a world of silence. His teachers talked and lectured, but he had no idea what they were saying. Miguel is deaf and wasn’t given the tools to understand the outside world. 

Because their son received straight As and was on the honor roll, Miguel’s parents, who don’t speak English, were unaware there was a problem until it was time to graduate from high school. Then, Miguel was provided with a “certificate of achievement” rather than a diploma. Subsequent evaluations showed that Miguel read at a third grade level, even though he didn’t have any other disabilities. He did not know sign language at all and couldn’t communicate with anyone, because the school district had not provided him with that education. 

After his family’s first lawsuit, the school district gave Miguel some compensatory education, but the family also wanted to sue the district for damages. Those years of lost education would have a lifelong impact, their lawyers argued. Yesterday, in an unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Miguel and his parents. They will win unspecified damages from their school district. 

This case sets an important precedent. If Miguel can sue for damages, every special education student, who failed to receive crucial therapy or educational instruction, can sue for damages. This case is the most significant education decision by the courts in years. Schools will be forced to deal with the special education problem or face bankruptcy.

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