Special Education

Court Is Urged to Hear Case on Parent Representation Under IDEA

By Christina A. Samuels — October 03, 2006 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Bush administration has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the question of whether parents who are not lawyers can represent their children in federal court over issues related to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The court is considering whether to hear an appeal brought by Jeff and Sandee Winkleman, who argue that the 13,000-student Parma school district did not craft an appropriate educational plan for their 8-year-old son, Jacob, who has autism.

See Also

After several administrative hearings at which the parents represented their son, the Winklemans sued the 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 Parma 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 Winkleman v. Parma City School District (Case No. 05-983).

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Sept. 20, U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement argues that the IDEA authorizes parents to bring special education cases to federal court without a lawyer.

“[P]arents are parties in their own right in IDEA actions, not merely guardians of their children’s rights,” Mr. Clement says in the brief.

The solicitor general’s brief also outlines the split in the federal courts of appeals on the question of whether parents who are not lawyers can press IDEA cases in federal courts.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia, has ruled that parents have no substantive right of their own under the IDEA, and therefore cannot proceed without an attorney in federal court, according to the solicitor general’s brief. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, in Boston, has held that parents are indeed “parties aggrieved” within the meaning of the IDEA, and thus may represent their children in federal court.

Jean-Claude André, a Los Angeles lawyer who is representing the Winklemans in their Supreme Court case on a pro bono basis, said in an interview that he was ecstatic that the solicitor general suggested that the court take the case, and that the administration was taking the side of the parents.

“It’s about access to the courts for these families,” Mr. André said. Mr. Winkleman works two jobs, while Ms. Winkleman stays home to care for her two children, both of whom have autism, he said. Their household income is less than $40,000 a year, and they face a mortgage and significant medical bills, according to a their Supreme Court brief.

“If you make them get a lawyer, there’s no way they can operate in the black,” Mr. André said.

The school district argues that the case does not merit the court’s time because it involves application of “well-settled” law, and that the IDEA does not give the parents the right to represent their children in court.

“This exclusion comports with the venerable common-law rule that non-attorneys may not represent the interests of another in court,” Christina Henagen Peer, a lawyer for the school district, argues in a brief filed with the Supreme Court.

A version of this article appeared in the October 04, 2006 edition of Education Week as Court Is Urged to Hear Case on Parent Representation Under IDEA

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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Stronger Together: Integrating Social and Emotional Supports in an Equity-Based MTSS
Decades of research have shown that when schools implement evidence-based social and emotional supports and programming, academic achievement increases. The impact of these supports – particularly for students of color, students from low-income communities, English
Content provided by Illuminate Education
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
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial

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

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
Special Education Whitepaper
When is it Dyslexia? Assessing Early Indicators.
Download your copy of this white paper to learn how early assessments can help improve student outcomes.
Content provided by Voyager Sopris Learning
Special Education Florida Changed Rules for Special Education Students. Why Many Say It’s Wrong
The new rule contains a more specific definition of what it means to have a “most significant cognitive disability.”
Jeffrey S. Solochek, Tampa Bay Times
7 min read
Richard Corcoran, the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Education sits next to Florida Department of Education Board Chair Andy Tuck as they listen to speakers during Thursday morning's Florida Department of Education meeting. The board members of the Florida Department of Education met Thursday, June 10, 2021 at the Florida State College at Jacksonville's Advanced Technology Center in Jacksonville, Fla. to take care of routine business but then held public comments before a vote to remove critical race theory from Florida classrooms.
Richard Corcoran, Florida’s education commissioner, and Andy Tuck, the chair of the state’s board of education, listen to speakers at a meeting  in June.
Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP
Special Education 6 Ways to Communicate Better With Parents of Students With Learning Differences
For students who learn or think differently, a strong network of support is key. Here are 6 tips for bridging the communication gap between families and schools.
Marina Whiteleather
3 min read
network of quote bubbles
cagkansayin/iStock/Getty
Special Education New York City Will Phase Out Controversial Gifted and Talented Program
The massive change is aimed at addressing racial disparities in the biggest school system in the country.
Michael Elsen-Rooney, New York Daily News
4 min read
Students write and draw positive affirmations on poster board at P.S. 5 Port Morris, an elementary school in The Bronx borough of New York on Aug. 17, 2021. New York City will phase out its program for gifted and talented students that critics say favors whites and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children, in the nation's largest and arguably most segregated school system.
Students write and draw positive affirmations on poster board at P.S. 5 Port Morris, an elementary school in The Bronx borough of New York on Aug. 17, 2021. New York City will phase out its program for gifted and talented students that critics say favors whites and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children, in the nation's largest and arguably most segregated school system.
Brittainy Newman/AP