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Supreme Court rules in favor of deaf student suing Michigan school for not providing interpreters

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The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday for a a deaf student who sued his public school system for providing an inadequate education, a significant victory for other disabled students who allege they were failed by school officials.

The attorneys for Miguel Luna Perez, who attended public school in Sturgis, Michigan, told the court that for 12 years the school system neglected the boy and lied to his parents about the progress he was making, stunting his ability to communicate permanently.  The high court justices ruled that after Perez and his family settled a complaint against the school system they could pursue money damages under a different federal law.

Perez emigrated to the United States from Mexico at age 9, and his lawyers say the school system failed him by providing an aide who was not trained to work with deaf students, did not know sign language and in later years left him alone for hours at a time. After over a decade, Perez did not know any formal sign language and communicated through invented signs that anyone unfamiliar with his unique signing did not understand. The school awarded him inflated grades and his parents believed he was on track to earn his high school diploma. Just before graduation, however, his family was told he qualified only for a “certificate of completion.”

Perez’s family pursued claims under two laws: the Americans with Disabilities Act (which prohibits discrimination against disabled people) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (which guarantees children with disabilities a free public education that is tailored to their specific needs). Perez’s family and the school district settled under the IDEA claims, with the district agreeing to pay for extra schooling and sign language instruction for Perez and his family. He graduated from the Michigan School for the deaf in 2020.

Editorial credit: Mehdi Kasumov / Shutterstock.com

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