Tuesday, May 22, 2007

SCOTUS holds parents have a right to proceed pro se when challenging appropriateness of education under IDEA

In Winkelman v. Parma City School District, parents’ dissatisfied with the school district’s educational plan for the youngest of their five children filed their own lawsuit in Federal District Court in Cleveland under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act They lost, and while the case was on appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in another case that parents bringing such suits could not proceed without a lawyer.

SCOTUS concluded that the IDEA grants parents independent, enforceable rights, which are not limited to certain procedural and reimbursement-related matters and thus encompass the entitlement to a free appropriate public education for the parents’ child. Hence, it is not the unauthorized practice of law for the parent's to file suit without a lawyer when they seek a judicial determination that their child’s free appropriate public education is substantively inadequate.

The dissenters, quite forcefully, argued that the right to an appropriate public education belongs to the child and not the parents. Hence, the statute does not give the parents the right to serve as a representative of the child in court.

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