On January 18, 2023, the Supreme Court heard Oral Argument in Perez v Sturgis Public Schools. What is this case about? Why does the case matter? Who is likely to prevail?
Perez v. Sturgis is a case brought by Miguel Luna Perez, a child who was deaf when he enrolled in Sturgis Public Schools at age nine. Miguel Luna required a qualified interpreter, sign language instruction, and special education and related services that met his unique needs as a deaf child and English language learner.
The school district failed to provide any of these services. They assigned Miguel Luna to an “educational assistant who did not know sign language . . . had no credentials whatsoever . . . and invented her own system of signing.”
For twelve years, the school district passed Miguel Luna from grade to grade. The district inflated his grades to As and Bs so he made the honor roll. Miguel Luna did not learn how to read or write. He couldn’t hear his teachers so he didn’t learn subjects like science, history, literature, and geography. A few weeks before graduation, school officials told his family he would receive a certificate of completion, not a high school diploma.
To learn more about Miguel Luna Perez and his case, read
Will the Supreme Court’s decision Help or Harm Students?
Oral Argument at the Supreme Court
On January 19, 2023, Pete and Pam Wright attended Oral Argument at the Supreme Court. While observing the Oral Argument, Pete paid close attention to the non-verbal body language of the Justices as the attorneys attempted to answer questions.
On occasion, as they listened to the questions and answers, the Justices displayed quick, fleeting involuntary facial gestures and shifts in body posture. These behaviors were telling and may provide insight into the perspective of a Justice. Pete made notes of the questions and of each Justice’s nonverbal body language as he attempted to predict how each Justice was leaning, pro-child or pro-school district. You will find Pete’s predictions at the end of this post.
[Wrightslaw Note: Pete was in graduate school (psychology) in the early 1970s. He took a social psychology group dynamics class that focused on the nonverbal body language displayed in group meetings. Pete was influenced by the book, How To Read A Person Like A Book by Gerard I. Nierenberg and Henry H. Calero (published in 1973, newer editions available). Over the years, many books have been published on this subject by authors who asserted that the most important aspect of individual and group communication is non-verbal and silent.]
After Perez’ attorney Martinez made his opening statement, Justice Clarence Thomas asked the first questions and issued positive comments. Chief Justice Roberts had questions about relief under IDEA and the ADA.
Justice Kagan had questions about parallel proceedings under IDEA and the ADA. Justice Jackson concurred that Congress intended for relief to be available under both statutes.
Justice Alito had questions about remedies, relief, and exhaustion. Justice Barrett had questions about the acceptance and rejection of settlement offers under IDEA and ADA. Justice Jackson focused on legislative history and Congress’ intentions when they enacted IDEA and the ADA.
Perez’s attorney Martinez asserted “I think the legislative history is also helpful on our argument that I’m quoting again — ‘exhaustion of administrative remedies would be excused where they would not be required to be exhausted under the IDEA such as when resort to those proceedings would be futile.'”
Justice Gorsuch said ”most of the courts of appeals have gravitated around a rule that a futility exception to the exhaustion requirement does exist . . . What’s wrong with that rule?” he asked
Justice Barrett responded, “there is a futility exception in most circuit courts and the sky hasn’t fallen as a result.”
Justice Kagan said Miguel Luna and his family “did everything right” when they settled his IDEA claims with the school district before filing a lawsuit for monetary damages under the ADA.
School district attorney Dvoretzky argued that IDEA’s exhaustion requirement is intended to prevent parents from circumventing IDEA by taking their claims directly to federal court.
Justice Kagan retorted, “I don’t know that your view of how school districts are going to operate is always going to be true. As between the two, it strikes me that actually it’s the parents who have the greater incentive to get the education fixed for their child.”
Justice Kagan added, “This isn’t litigation run by a lot of rapacious lawyers, you know. This is litigation being run by parents who are trying to do right by their kids.”
Miguel Luna Perez needs 5 justices to prevail. What are Pete’s predictions?
Pete’s Predictions about Justices’ Positions
To find out how accurate Pete’s predictions were, we will have to wait until SCOTUS issues its decision in Perez v. Sturgis. A decision is expected by June 30, 2023.
Curious about Oral Arguments?
You can listen to the Oral Argument (1:28 min) and read the transcript (99 pages double-spaced) in Perez v. Sturgis here.
In an interview before Oral Argument, Miguel Luna Perez made a statement:
At the Michigan School for the Deaf, I learned so many new words and signs. I learned construction. I helped others in my class to measure, and I got to build chairs and tables. I learned about building houses. I want to build houses as a job. I don’t have a job, but I want to have one.
I wish I could have gone to college . . . I want to make my own choices.”
To learn more about Miguel Luna Perez and his case, read
Will the Supreme Court’s Decision Help or Harm Students?
My son is 17 yrs old. He’s been playing baseball for his high school since freshman year starting outfielder. (has a IEP and on the low spectrum of Autism) Since his junior year he’s been getting college baseball letters addressed to him by name. His coach been throwing his letters away and or giving them to him after the dates published. His coach is also denying him paid for student athletes college visits. Out of 9 juniors and 4 seniors invite invite of 15 kids everyone got to go on the student athlete experience paid expenses school field trip except my son. I asked why is my son being excluded? His rebuttal was that he sent this out for certain kids who numbers he had.(they’re all in the same group chat btw) I reported the first incident about the letters to their principal and AD. They told me this would never happen again and they apologize for the inconvenience. The AD also said he sent out emails to ALL coaches stating that no student athletes mail should get thrown out by any coaches. Then the free college visit just happened in March 2023 and they denied my son. Since I’ve been advocating for my son they took him out the original group chat and dropped him on the Freshman team as a junior. Is this discrimination????
Nyree: From the facts you report, the coach’s behavior sounds like disability discrimination. In “Child Dismissed from Team, Parent Wants to File a Complaint,” we provided suggestions to a parent in a similar situation where there was an immediate problem and an ongoing problem.
You can file a discrimination complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR). In the article (above), we describe how to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights. Be sure you understand how to file a complaint. See Questions and Answers on OCR’s Complaint Process. You need to decide who you want to resolve an issue before you bring it up.
Also, be sure you know WHAT YOU WANT if the complaint is found in your son’s favor. If you don’t ask for anything when you file a complaint, you will not get anything when it is resolved.
I encourage you to consult with an attorney who has expertise in special education law. To find an appropriate attorney, go to your State page on the Yellow Pages for Disabilities or contact the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA).
To Glenn, please read the Complaint in Miguel Luna Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools and Sturgis Public School Board of Education filed in Federal Court on October 2, 2018. beginning on page 4. Your question will be answered. Thanks for commenting, as others will have the same question.
Excellent report. Thank you so much for sharing your insights and knowledge in such a clear, concise, understandable way.
Thanks, Dolly. Glad it was helpful.
Thanks for keeping us informed. Just continues to prove my point (to parents and school naysayers) that now, even in the 2020s, we have to be forever vigilant. No one can assume that school districts will do the right thing (unfortunately!!). I just helped my nephew and his wife get services for their 5 year old son in NYC (Brooklyn). He was found eligible last August (2022) and just finally got an IEP this December (2022) – after me sending them all your books and walking them through their rights. I was so angry, I was almost on the next plane up there! But they, at least, are better informed and won’t let this happen again. I will be there for the next IEP… (GO Hoos!)
Thanks, Karen. Angry!
I know that feeling, especially when a child in my family is being damaged. ~ Pam
I’m confused about how the parents were apparently totally “compliant” and/or in acquiescence with their son’s educational program throughout his education. There is an annual review held every year and the parent (or an involved individual) has the opportunity to request a program review at any time.
Glenn, I apologize if the post was not clear. Miguel’s parents did NOT acquiesce. The parents were recent immigrants and did not speak English. The IDEA requires the school to provide a qualified interpreter at all parent-school meetings about Miguel’s IEP and other educational decisions. The school district failed to provide an interpreter. The school staff did not speak Spanish.
Many parents are intimidated when they meet with school personnel. Regardless, the school was responsible for providing Miguel with a FAPE that included sign language instruction and appropriate educational services for a student who was deaf and was also an English language learner.
Sturgis staff assured his family that Miguel was doing well. His teachers inflated his grades to A’s and B’s. He was on the honor roll every semester. For these reasons, his family was shocked to learn Miguel would not receive a high school diploma. I suggest you read the Complaint filed in this case to get a clearer idea of what Miguel learned and didn’t learn during his years in Sturgis schools. (we linked the Complaint to a comment by Pete on Jan 31, 2023.)