November 29, 2023

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On January 18, 2023, the Supreme Court heard oral argument Perez Public Schools vs. Sturgis. What is it about in this case? Why does the case matter? Who is likely to win?

Miguel Luna Perez, compliments of the Perez family.

Perez v. Sturgis is the case brought by Miguel Luna Perez, a child who was deaf when he enrolled in Sturgis Public Schools at age nine. Miguel Luna requested a qualified interpreter, sign language instruction, and special education and related services to meet his unique needs as a deaf child and English language learner.

The school district did not provide any of these services. Miguel Luna was assigned to “a teaching assistant who did not know sign language. . . he had no credentials at all. . . and invented her own signature system.”

For twelve years, the school district preceded Miguel Luna from class to class. The district inflated his grades to As and Bs, so he made an honorable mention. Miguel Luna did not learn to read or write. He couldn’t hear his teachers, so he didn’t learn subjects like science, history, literature and geography. A few weeks before graduation, school officials told his family that he would receive a certificate of graduation, not a high school diploma.

To learn more about Miguel Luna Perez and his case, read on
Will Supreme Court Decision Help or Hurt Students?

Oral argument before the Supreme Court

On January 19, 2023, Pete and Pam Wright participated in oral argument at the Supreme Court. As Pete watched the oral argument, he paid close attention to the judges’ nonverbal body language as the attorneys attempted to answer questions.

At times, while listening to the questions and answers, the judges made quick, fleeting involuntary facial gestures and changes in posture. This behavior was telling and may provide insight into the judge’s perspective. Pete took notes on each judge’s questions and non-verbal body language as he tried to predict how each judge would lean, whether it was the children’s district or the school district. Pete’s predictions can be found at the end of this post.

[Wrightslaw Note: Pete was in graduate school (psychology) in the early 1970s. He took a social psychology group dynamics class that focused on the nonverbal body language displayed in group meetings. Pete was influenced by the book, How To Read A Person Like A Book by Gerard I. Nierenberg and Henry H. Calero (published in 1973, newer editions available). Over the years, many books have been published on this subject by authors who asserted that the most important aspect of individual and group communication is non-verbal and silent.]

After Perez’s attorney Martinez made an opening statement, Judge Clarence Thomas asked the first questions and made positive comments. Chief Justice Roberts had questions about relief under the IDEA and the ADA.

Justice Kagan had questions about concurrent proceedings under the IDEA and the ADA. Justice Jackson agreed that Congress intended relief to be available under both statutes.

Justice Alito had questions about remedies, relief and exhaustion. Judge Barrett had questions about accepting and rejecting settlement offers under the IDEA and the ADA. Justice Jackson focused on the legislative history and intent of Congress when they enacted IDEA and the ADA.

Perez’s attorney, Martinez, stated, “I think legislative history is also helpful to our argument, which I quote again — exhaustion of administrative remedies would be excused where exhaustion of administrative remedies would not be required under the IDEA, such as when recourse to such proceedings was it would be in vain.”

Justice Gorsuch said, “Most appellate courts have focused on the rule that a futility exception to the exhaustion requirement does exist. . . What’s wrong with that rule?” he asked

Judge Barrett responded: “There is a futility exception in most circuit courts, and the sky has not fallen as a result.”

Justice Kagan said Miguel Luna and his family “did everything right” by settling his IDEA claims with the school district before filing suit for money damages under the ADA.

Dvoretzky, the school district’s attorney, argued that IDEA’s exhaustion requirement is intended to prevent parents from circumventing IDEA by filing their claims directly in federal court.

Justice Kagan responded, “I don’t know that your view of how school districts are going into surgery will always be true. As for those two, it occurs to me that actually it’s the parents who have the bigger ones an incentive to get their education fixed child.”

Justice Kagan added: “This is not a lawsuit run by a bunch of greedy lawyers, you know. This is a lawsuit brought by the parents who try to do right by their children.”

Miguel Luna Perez needs 5 judges to win. What are Pete’s predictions?

Pete’s Predictions on Judge Positions

For a child: 6
Passed school: 1
Unclear: 2

We’ll have to wait for SCOTUS to issue its decision to find out how accurate Pete’s predictions were Perez v. Sturgis. A decision is expected by June 30, 2023.

Are you interested in Oral Arguments?

You can listen to the Oral Argument (1:28 min) and read the transcript (99 double-spaced pages) at Perez v. Sturgis here.

In an interview before Oral Argument, Miguel Luna Perez made a statement:

I learned so many new words and signs at the Michigan School for the Deaf. I learned construction. I helped others in the class measure and set up chairs and tables. I learned how to build houses. I want to build houses as a job. I don’t have a job, but I want one.

I wish I could go to college. . . I want to decide for myself.”

To learn more about Miguel Luna Perez and his case, read on
Will Supreme Court Decision Help or Hurt Students?

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