A Supreme Court Ruling With Implications

According to one of the oldest federal laws on the books “in all courts of the United States, the parties may plead and conduct their own cases personally.” This means that people may represent themselves in court, or choose to have a practicing lawyer represent their interests. It also means that since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) passed, parents who desire to bring a case against a school district for not providing their children with what they consider to be an appropriate education must first acquire the services of a lawyer, until now.

In a 7-to-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that parents may bring a case to court protesting the educational services provided to their child without a lawyer. The decision was based on the conclusion that “the statute (IDEA) guarantees rights not only to children, but also their parents.” The issue of whether parents can legally represent their children does not need to be addressed in this case, according Justice Kennedy, because the parents are considered to be representing their own interests.

The implications of this court case for teachers working with learning disabled students and all students with disabilities is plain and simple: it is more important that ever to communicate with the parents of disabled children to ensure that the child is not only receiving services as you see fit, but more importantly receiving services as the parent sees fit. The National School Board Association is already warning that the ruling will “‘increase the already burdensome costs of special education litigation’ because parents lack the experience and judgment and would be ‘emotionally invested in the outcome of the case.’” Good luck special education teachers. Good luck school districts.

Contributed by: Mike Lederman

Greenhouse, Linda. (May 22, 2007). “Legal Victory for Families of Disabled Students”