will Winkelman harm children?

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An article in the newest issue of Education Week discusses the case of Winkelman v. Parma City School Distirct, which is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.  (Education Week, “IDEA Issues Getting Ear of High Court,” by Andrew Trottter, Nov. 8, 2006).  As we explained in a prior post, the case will decide whether a parent who is a nonlawyer can represent his or her child in IDEA special education disputes with school districts.   The EdWeek article features lawyers offering their opinions on whether allowing such suits by parents would be harmful to children. 
 dice The article reports that “Experts who generally favor families in IDEA disputes, as well as those who favor school districts, disagreed about whether allowing nonlawyer parents to conduct IDEA appeals would be harmful to the child or might be the best available alternative.”  Thus:
  • Christopher P. Borreca, a lawyer with Bracewell Giuliani in Houston, who represents school districts in IDEA cases, notes that “the rights provided by the law belong to the child, and you are, in a sense, doing a child an injustice by not hiring an attorney.”
  • Kathleen Boundy, a co-director of the Center for Law and Education, says parent representation is a second-best solution to ensuring that low-income families have better access to legal representation.  She wants more legal services for the families and asks “How many parents can really represent themselves pro se?”
  • Michael J. Eig, a Chevy Chase, Md., lawyer who has represented families in many IDEA cases, supports the parents in the Winkelman case, but apparently sees an “irony” if the parents win, in that “one has to believe that in the long run, the school districts are going to win more IDEA cases against unskilled parents representing themselves.”  [Eig’s Law for Children firm website offers a brief history of special education laws and links to cases and other resources.]
Is no appeal on behalf of the child, due to lack of funds for a lawyer, better for the child than allowing the parents to represent the child in court?  Are the lawyers quoted above being too pessimistic about the ability of parents to present their case and get a fair hearing without counsel?  If you have an opinion, please leave a Comment.

1 Comment

  1. shlep: the Self-Help Law ExPress » Blog Archive » Supreme Court hears Winkelman argument tomorrow

    February 26, 2007 @ 7:06 pm

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    […]      Oral argument will be held tomorrow at the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Winkelman v. Parma City School District [official docket sheet].  The question presented to the Court is whether non-lawyer parents of a disabled child may bring a case pro se (without a lawyer) under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act [IDEA], 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.  We’ve discussed this important case in two prior postings:  Can a parent be the “self” in “pro se” (Sept. 21, 2006) and Will Winkelman Harm Children? (Nov. 7, 2006).  Six federal circuit courts of appeal have ruled on this issue, but they have a three-way split on how to treat pro se parents under IDEA. […]