Parents of disabled children won a major victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, as the justices ruled unanimously that parents do not have to hire a lawyer to sue a school district over providing an appropriate education for a child with special needs.
The court's ruling came in the case of Jeff and Sandee Winkelman, whose son, Jacob, is autistic. When he entered pre-school, Jacob's tantrums were severe enough that the district placed him in a special school for autistic children.
But after two years, Mrs. Winkelman says, there was a changing of the guard, and new school administrators and school board members said Jacob had to attend regular public school.
Under the Disabilities Act, parents are entitled to go to court to enforce the law, but a majority of the courts have required that parents be represented by a lawyer. If parents didn't have an attorney, their cases were thrown out.
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that parents cannot be shut out of court just because they are representing themselves.
The ruling was a blow to school boards across the country. National School Boards Association General Counsel Francisco Negron says that allowing non-lawyer parents in court will lengthen the process because parents are not legally trained and often are emotional.