On March 21, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a rare unanimous decision, ruled that a deaf student can sue his school for its failure to provide him with a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

In the case, Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, instead of providing the student (Perez) with aides able to translate class material into sign language, as promised, the aides were not trained in sign language at all, and often were absent from classes.

Further, because the student received better than passing grades (As and Bs) on report cards, his parents reasonably thought he was on track to graduate. However, near the end of his senior year in high school, the parents learned that he would instead be receiving a certificate of completion and not a diploma. The parents filed a complaint with the state, and the school district settled the case, agreeing to pay for future training at the Michigan School for the Deaf.

Consequently, the student pursued compensation for past damages, including loss of income and emotional distress, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which bars discrimination against those with disabilities. That lawsuit ultimately compelled the Supreme Court to determine whether the student could sue for past damages under a different statute, since the first suit was under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the subsequent suit was under the ADA. The unanimous decision provided a resounding affirmative answer to that question.

The result is that an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit seeking compensatory damages for the denial of a free and appropriate education (FAPE) may proceed without exhausting the administrative processes of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) because the remedy sought is not one IDEA provides.

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