Parents Who Won Supreme Court Case on Special Education Lose in Appeals Court

By Mark Walsh — October 03, 2008 1 min read
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A pair of special education parents in Ohio won their battle in the U.S. Supreme Court last year, but this week they lost the war.

Jeff and Sandee Winkelman had sued the Parma, Ohio, school district over the special education services for their son, who has a form of autism. They lost on the merits in U.S. District Court, where they had the help of a lawyer. By the time they appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, they could no longer afford legal counsel, so they sought to represent themselves. The 6th Circuit ruled they could not represent their child in that court.

The Winkelmans appealed that issue to the Supreme Court, and in May 2007, the court ruled that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act gave parents certain rights to represent themselves and their children in special education proceedings. The decision in Winkelman v. Parma City School District was unanimous in some respects and 7-2 in others.

Education Week reported on the decision here and here, and my colleague Christina Samuels profiled the family and the case here.

Now the 6th Circuit has reconsidered their case, with the parents representing themselves. But in a short, unpublished opinion, the appeals court affirmed the federal district court’s original decision against the family.

“The Winkelmans first argue that the district court erred by placing the burden of proof on
them, rather than on the school district,” the appeals court said. “Next, they argue that the district court erred by finding that the school district had provided the [free, appropriate public education] with regard to music therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. Finally, they contend that the district court erred by approving the hearing officer’s decision to disregard the Winkelmans’ expert-witness’s testimony as not credible.”

“After carefully reviewing the record, the law, and the arguments presented in the appellate
briefs,” the court adds, “we conclude that each of the Winkelmans’ assignments of error is without merit.”

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.