The Supreme Court ruled today that parents of children with disabilities need not hire lawyers if they want to sue public school districts over their children’s special-education needs.
In a case of interest to parents and educators across the country, the justices ruled in favor of a couple from the Cleveland suburb of Parma who were unhappy with the school district’s proposal to meet the special needs of their autistic son.
Jeff and Sandee Winkelman were unable to afford a lawyer to sue the Parma City School District over the program designed for the youngest of their five children, Jacob, who was 6 when the lawsuit begin about four years ago.
In general, federal law allows people to represent themselves in court. But most federal courts have barred parents of children with disabilities from appearing without a lawyer in cases filed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, which guarantees all children a “free appropriate public education.”