Wrightslaw l No Child Left Behind l IDEA 2004 l Fetaweb l Yellow Pages for Kids l Harbor House Law Press

 Home > Law > Legal Articles > Supreme Court Rules: "Parents Have Independent, Enforceable Rights" by Pete Wright & Pam Wright (May 22, 2007)


The Special Ed Advocate
It's Unique ... and Free!

Enter your email address below:

 

2014 - 2015 Training Programs

Oct 23 - Wilton, CT

Oct 25 - Olympia, WA

Oct 30 - Phoenix, AZ

Nov 6 - McAllen, TX

Nov 18 - DesMoines, IA

Nov 21 - Temecula, CA

Dec 4 - OKC, OK

Full Schedule

Be a Hero ...

 Jason at Ft. Benning
... to a Hero
Learn more

Wrightslaw

Home
Topics from A-Z
Free Newsletter
Seminars & Training
Consultations
Yellow Pages for Kids
Press Room
FAQs
Sitemap

Books & Training

Wrightslaw Books & DVDs
Wrightslaw Storesecure store lock
  Advocate's Store
  Student Bookstore
  Exam Copies
Training Center
Bulk Discounts
New! Military Discounts
Mail & Fax Orders

Advocacy Library

Articles
Doing Your Homework
Ask the Advocate
FAQs
Newsletter Archives
Summer School Series
Success Stories
Tips

Law Library

Articles
Caselaw
IDEA 2004
No Child Left Behind
McKinney-Vento Homeless
FERPA
Section 504
Fed Court Complaints

Topics

Advocacy
ADD/ADHD
Allergy/Anaphylaxis
Assistive Technology
Autism Spectrum
Behavior & Discipline
Bullying
College/Continuing Ed
Damages
Discrimination
Due Process
Early Intervention (Part C)
Eligibility
ESY
Evaluations
FAPE
Flyers
Future Planning
Harassment
High-Stakes Tests
Homeless Children
IDEA 2004
Identification & Child Find
IEPs
ISEA
Juvenile Justice
Law School & Clinics
Letters & Paper Trails
LRE/Inclusion
Mediation
Military / DOD
No Child Left Behind
NCLB Directories
NCLB Law & Regs
Parental Protections
PE and Adapted PE
Privacy & Records
Procedural Safeguards
Progress Monitoring
Reading
Related Services
Research Based Instruction
Response to Intervention (RTI)
Restraints/Abuse
Retention
Retaliation
School Report Cards
Section 504
Self-Advocacy
Teachers & Principals
Transition
Twice Exceptional (2e)
VA Special Education

Resources & Directories

Advocate's Bookstore
Advocacy Resources
Directories
  Disability Groups
  International
  State DOEs
  State PTIs
Free Flyers
Free Pubs
Free Newsletters
Legal & Advocacy
Glossaries
   Legal Terms
   Assessment Terms
Best School Websites

 

Supreme Court Rules: "Parents Have Independent, Enforceable Rights"
by Pete Wright, Esq. and Pamela Wright, MA, MSW

Print this page
 

 

Sandee and Jacob Winkleman

On May 21, 2007, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous[1] pro-parent, pro-child decision in Jacob Winkelman v. Parma City Schools.

 

The question before the Court was "whether parents, either on their own behalf or as representatives of the child, may proceed in court unrepresented by counsel though they are not trained or licensed as attorneys."

 

The Winkelman decision goes far beyond the question about whether parents can represent their children in court. In Winkelman, the Court listed and affirmed parental rights, the importance of parental involvement, and described the essential role parents play in ensuring that their child receives a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The Court also refined the definition of a "free appropriate public education."

 

The Court explained that answering this question "...requires us to examine and explain the provisions of IDEA to determine if it accords to parents rights of their own that can be vindicated in court proceedings, or ... whether the Act allows them, in their status as parents, to represent their child in court proceedings."

 

Do Parents Have "Independent, Enforceable Rights?"

 

To answer this question, the Court reviewed IDEA, considered "the entire statutory scheme," and provided a comprehensive description of parental rights in the IDEA statute.

 

"The goals of IDEA include "ensuring that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education" and "ensuring that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected." 1400(d)(1)(A)-(B)

 

The Court found that parents have a "significant role" and examined four critical portions of IDEA: IEP procedures; criteria to determine FAPE; procedural mechanisms for IEP disputes; and parental reimbursement.

 

The Court listed "terms that mandate or otherwise describe parental involvement."

 

"IDEA requires school districts to develop an IEP for each child with a disability with parents playing "a significant role" in this process." 1412(a)(4), 1414(d)

 

"Parents serve as members of the team that develops the IEP." 1414(d)(1)(B)

 

"The "concerns" parents have "for enhancing the education of their child" must be considered by the team." 1414(d)(3)(A)(ii)

 

"IDEA accords parents additional protections that apply through the IEP process."

 

The IEP team is required "to revise the IEP when appropriate to address certain information provided by the parents." 1414(d)(4)(a)

 

States must "ensure that the parents are members of any group that makes decisions on the educational placement of their child." 1415(b)(1)

 

"A central purpose of the parental protections is to facilitate the provision of a 'free appropriate public education which must be made available to the child "in conformity with the [IEP]'" 1401(9)(D)

 

Sandee and Jeff Winkelman sued the Parma Ohio School District on behalf of Jacob, their son with autism.

Disputes and Differences

 

"When a party objects to the adequacy of the education provided " the IEP, or some related matter, IDEA provides procedural recourse ...  any party can present a complaint" about the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of a free appropriate public education to such child." 1415(b)(6)

 

The process begins with a meeting "where the parents of the child discuss their complaint" and the school district "is provided with the opportunity to [reach a resolution]." 1415(f)(1)(B)(i)(IV) If the school district "has not resolved the complaint to the satisfaction of the parent within 30 days," the parents may request a due process hearing. 1415(f)(1)(B)(ii)

 

"The statute sets out procedures for resolving disputes ...that... contemplates parents will be the parties bringing the administrative complaints."

 

States are required to "develop a model form to assist parents in filing a complaint." 1415(b)(8)

 

The Court found that "... the Act does not ... bar parents from seeking to vindicate the rights accorded to them once the time comes to file a civil action. Through its provisions for expansive review and extensive parental involvement, the statute leads to just the opposite result."

 

Purposes of IDEA

 

"IDEA defines one of its purposes as seeking 'to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and the parents of such children are protected.' 1400(d)(1)(B) The word 'rights' in the quoted language refers to the rights of parents as well as the rights of the child..."

 

"We interpret the statute's references to parents' rights to mean what they say: that IDEA includes provisions conveying rights to parents as well as to children."

 

Structure of the IDEA Statute

 

The IEP process entitles parents to participate "in the substantive formulation of their child's educational program."

"IDEA requires the IEP team, which includes the parents as members, to take into account any 'concerns' parents have 'for enhancing the education of their child' when they formulate the IEP." 1414(d)(3)(A)(ii)

 

"The statute empowers parents to bring challenges brought on a broad range of issues." 1415(b)(6)(A)

 

The Court concluded "These provisions confirm that IDEA ... creates in parents an independent stake ... in the substantive decisions to be made."

 

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

 

In a departure from the minimal standards enumerated in Rowley (1982) 35 years ago, the Court updated the definition of a free appropriate public education (FAPE):

 

"The Act defines a 'free appropriate public education' pursuant to an IEP to be an educational instruction 'specially designed ... to meet the unique needs of the child with a disability,'1401(29), coupled with any additional 'related services' that are "required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from [that instruction]" 1401(26)(A). See also 1401(9)

 

Potential for Injustice

 

The Court noted that if they accepted the ruling by the Court of Appeals that parental rights are limited, this would leave "some parents without a remedy."

 

"The potential for injustice in this result is apparent ... we find nothing in the statute to indicate that Congress ... intended that only some parents would be able to enforce the mandate. The statute instead takes pain to 'ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected.'" 1400(d)(1)(B)

 

Court of Appeals Erred: Parents Have Independent Enforceable Rights

 

"We conclude that IDEA grants parents independent, enforceable rights. These rights, which are not limited to certain procedural and reimbursement-related matters, encompass the entitlement to a free appropriate public education for the parents' child."

 

"The Court of Appeals erred when it dismissed the Winkelman's appeal for lack of counsel. Parents enjoy rights under IDEA... they are ... entitled to prosecute IDEA claims on their own behalf. The decision by Congress to grant parents these rights was consistent with the purpose of IDEA and fully in accord with our social and legal traditions ... It is beyond dispute that the relationship between a parent and child is sufficient to support a legally cognizable interest in the education of one's child..."

 

What is the Significance of Winkelman?

 

Since the Supreme Court's decision in my Florence County School District IV v. Shannon Carter case (1993), the Court has not focused on the purpose of IDEA, the parental role, or the criteria for determining if a child received an appropriate education.

 

The decision in Garret F. (1999) focused on the child's need for related services, including continuous one-on-one nursing services, in order to attend school and receive an appropriate education.

 

The decision in Schaffer (2005) held that the burden of proof in a due process hearing is on the party who challenges an IEP.

 

The decision in Arlington (2006) held that parents are not entitled to recover expert witness fees in special education litigation.

 

The Pendulum Swings

 

In all areas of law, judicial decisions swing back and forth over time, like a pendulum. Criminal law practitioners see this in rulings on search and seizure and Miranda warnings, and variations in state and federal courts.

 

Over time, special education litigation experiences the same swings and shifts.

 

The decision in Carter was a 9-0 pro-parent, pro-child decision issued 34 days after oral argument.

 

Garret F. was 7-2 pro-child decision issued 4 months after oral argument.

 

Schaffer was 6-2 pro-school decision issued 5 weeks after oral argument.

 

Murphy was 6-3 pro-school decision issued 9 weeks after oral argument.

 

Winkelman is a 9-0 pro-parent, pro-child decision issued nearly 3 months after oral argument.

 

In Winkelman, Justice Kennedy, writing for the other Justices, returned to the roots of IDEA. Special education is "educational instruction 'specially designed . . . to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability,'1401(29), coupled with any additional 'related services' that are 'required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from [that instruction]' in order to provide a child with "independent living, and economic self-sufficiency..."

Listen to the Oral Argument (MP3 download) Listen to Justice Anthony M. Kennedy read the decision.

With the Winkelman decision, the pendulum is swinging back to protect parents and their children with disabilities.

 

Our hats are off to Jeff and Sandee Winkelman and their attorney, Jean Claude Andre of the Ivey, Smith and Ramirez law firm.

 

We want to thank attorney Andrew K. Cuddy of New York who is representing Jeff and Sandee Winkelman in their current due process hearing. At last report earlier this month, that due process hearing was in the eleventh day.

 

Footnote

 

[1] In High court rules in favor of special-ed parents, the Los Angeles Times reported that the decision was a unanimous ruling in favor of the parents and child.

 

Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Thomas, filed a separate Opinion concurring with the ruling, but dissenting about whether the "right to an education" is a right of the parent and child, or is limited to the child. He wrote, "Petitioners sought reimbursement, alleged procedural violations, and requested a declaration that their child's FAPE was substantively inadequate ... I agree with the Court that they may proceed pro se with respect to the first two claims, but I disagree that they may do so with respect to the third."

 

This dissent is of minimal significance for two reasons. First, if a parent is to obtain reimbursement, which Justice Scalia agrees they can do on their own behalf, they must prove that their child's education was "substantively inadequate." Thus, the issue is moot. Second, if the limited portion of his Opinion is viewed as a dissent, it is a dissent on a very limited aspect of one minor portion of a majority ruling on behalf of parents and children.

 

Wrightslaw Note

 

In the Opinion, the Court referenced the Congressional Findings in Section 1400(c) of IDEA, IEPs in Section 1414, procedural safeguards in Section 1415 of the IDEA statute. All sections cited by the Court in this decision are in Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition. The book includes the complete text of the statute with analysis and commentary, and all special education decisions from the Supreme Court until the decision in Winkelman.

 

Findings and Purposes in Section 1400 begin on page 45. The definition of 'special education' is in Section 1401(29) on page 55. The law about evaluations in Section 1414(a-c) is on page 92. The IEP statute in Section 1414(d) begins on page 99. The law about Procedural Safeguards is in Section 1415 which begins on page 107.

 

Other Resources

 

Jacob Winkelman, et al. v. Parma Schools - Background, Question Presented, Links to Briefs and Other Decisions

 

Can You Represent Your Child's Rights Under IDEA? by Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Wright

 

Government urges review of parents' IDEA role

Created: 05/22/07
Revised: 00/00/00

 


Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon The Special Ed Advocate: It's Free!

 

Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, by Pam and Pete Wright
About the Book

Wrightslaw: All About IEPs
About the Book

Wrightslaw: All About Tests and Assessments
About the Book

Surviving Due Process: Stephen Jeffers v. School Board
About the DVD Video

 

Copyright 1998-2014, Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright. All rights reserved.

Contact Us | Press Mission l Our Awards l Privacy Policy l Disclaimer l Site Map

New Book!

Now Shipping!

Wrightslaw: All About Tests and Assessments
About the Book

Check it out!

Wrightslaw Store

The Advocate's Store

Get Help!

Blog the Wrightslaw

Wrightslaw on Facebook

Find us on Facebook

Wrightslaw Books

Student Discounts

Military Discounts


Wrightslaw: All About IEPs

About the Book
To Order

Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, by Pam and Pete Wright
About the Book
To Order


About the Book

To Order


Surviving Due Process: Stephen Jeffers v. School Board

About the DVD Video
To Order


To Order


Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind

About the Book
To Order

Wrightslaw Multimedia Training


Understanding Your Child's
Test Scores (1.5 hrs)

Understanding Your Child's Test Scores

Learn More
To Order
Retail Price: $
24.95
Wrightslaw Special: $14.95

Special Education Law & Advocacy Training
(6.5 hrs)


Wrightslaw WebEx Special Education Law & Training Program (6.5 hrs)


Learn More
To Order
Retail Price: $99.95
Wrightslaw Special: $49.95