MA Appeals Court: Parents Can
Represent Their Children in Disability Disputes
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Parents can sue
on behalf of their disabled children -- without hiring a lawyer
-- to make sure their child gets an appropriate public
education, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a New Hampshire
case in which the parents of a disabled boy had sued two school
districts -- the Plymouth School District and the Pemi-Baker
Regional School District -- over his individualized education
Normally, parents who are suing on behalf of a child must hire a
lawyer, the court said in a 30-page opinion written by Justice
The appeals court noted that the school districts were concerned
that permitting parents to sue without a lawyer would cause more
meritless lawsuits to be brought under the Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act.
"The concern is real," the three-judge panel found.
But it continued, "Our view is that Congress ... thought that
risk an acceptable price to pay" to ensure that disabled
students get a free and appropriate education.
Pointing out that school districts are usually represented by
lawyers, which gives them an advantage, the court said, "We find
it unlikely that Congress intended to put parents who attempt to
proceed pro se at the even greater disadvantage of preventing
their suits from going forward at all."
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