Law & Courts

Supreme Court to Decide Whether Nonlawyer Parents May Sue Under IDEA

By Andrew Trotter — October 27, 2006 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to decide whether parents who are not lawyers have a right to represent their child with disabilities, or themselves, in federal court under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The Bush administration had urged the justices to take up the issue, on which various federal appeals courts had issued conflicting rulings in recent years.

The appeal stems from a lawsuit by Jeff and Sandee Winkelman, two Ohio parents who challenged the appropriateness of a school’s educational plan for their son, Jacob, who has autism spectrum disorder.

After several administrative hearings at which the parents represented their son, the Winkelmans sued the 13,000-student Parma school district in U.S District Court in Cleveland, challenging the hearing officers’ decisions that the district had provided their son a free, appropriate public education as required under the IDEA.

The district court ruled in favor of the school system in June 2005. The family appealed, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled last November that the parents could not proceed in that court without a lawyer.

The parents appealed to the Supreme Court, and in May the justices asked the Bush administration to weigh in on Winkelman v. Parma City School District (Case No. 05-983).

Parents’ Derivative Rights?

In a brief filed Sept. 20, U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement suggested that the 6th circuit holding, barring parents from representing themselves under the IDEA, was “inconsistent with the plain language, structure, and purposes of IDEA.”

“Resolution of this conflict is warranted in view of the critical interests involved in IDEA litigation, the recurring nature of the question presented, and the need to ensure IDEA’s uniform application,” the brief said.

The Parma school district, in a brief opposing Supreme Court review, argued that the IDEA allows parents to represent their children in state administrative proceedings under the federal law, but not in federal court proceedings.

At stake, the district argued in its brief, is the quality of representation of the child, because “minor children with disabilities cannot make an informed choice to assume the risk of proceeding without counsel.”

The Supreme Court has not addressed whether parents are entitled to sue on their own behalf under the IDEA or whether their right to file an IDEA lawsuit derives from their child’s rights under the law, according to solicitor general’s brief.

The issue of whether the right is derivative is key, Mr. Clement argued, because a nonlawyer parent can only represent himself or herself and not the parent’s child.

While the 6th Circuit court held that nonlawyer parents may not press an IDEA case in federal court under any circumstance, another federal appeals court has ruled that nonlawyer parents are not limited at all. Four other appeals courts have held that such parents need a lawyer to press a child’s substantive claims under the IDEA, but not the parents’ procedural claims.

The court granted review of the case on Oct. 27, and it will likely hear arguments in the case sometime early next year.

Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Federal Judge Denies Parents' Suit to Block Florida's Ban on School Mask Mandates
The parents argued that their children, due to health conditions, were at particular risk if any of their peers attend school without masks.
David Goodhue, Miami Herald
3 min read
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Marta Lavandier/AP
Law & Courts Texas Attorney General Sues More School Districts That Require Masks
The Texas attorney general's office anticipates filing more lawsuits against districts flouting the governor’s order. Will Dallas be next?
Talia Richman, The Dallas Morning News
4 min read
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP
Law & Courts Can They Do That? Questions Swirl Around COVID-19 School Vaccine Mandates
With at least one large school district adopting a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, here is a look at the legal landscape for such a requirement.
5 min read
Image of a band-aid being placed on the arm.
iStock/Getty
Law & Courts High Court Justice Rejects Student's Bid to Block Removal Over Sexual Harassment Claim
Justice Elena Kagan denied a California student's effort to return to school after his 'emergency' suspension under Title IX regulations.
3 min read
The Supreme Court in Washington as seen on Oct. 7, 2020. After more than a decade in which the Supreme Court moved gradually toward more leniency for minors convicted of murder, the justices have moved the other way. The high court ruled 6-3 Thursday along ideological lines against a Mississippi inmate sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for fatally stabbing his grandfather when the defendant was 15 years old. The case is important because it marks a break with the court’s previous rulings and is evidence of the impact of a newly more conservative court.
The U.S. Supreme Court as seen on Oct. 7, 2020.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP