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Article of Interest - Court Cases

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MA Appeals Court: Parents Can Represent Their Children in Disability Disputes
WBZ4, 10/9/2003
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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 program.

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 Sandra Lynch.

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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