Oops, Small-Town Michigan Schools Forgot To Teach Deaf Kid For 12 Years, Now He Can't Communicate
There's a Supreme Court case, but it's not even about how to help him — yet.
When Miguel Luna Perez started school in Sturgis, Michigan, he was nine years old. His parents had immigrated from Mexico and he'd never learned sign language in Spanish, which means he missed out on much of the earliest language development that children, hearing or deaf, need from infancy. But once in an American school, he was eligible for all sorts of learning assistance, starting with instruction in American Sign Language (ASL).
He never got any of the help he was entitled to, and now, at the age of 27, he's unlikely to ever be able to communicate well enough to hold a job, as a perfectly infuriating Detroit Free Press story explains today. It's a subscriber-only piece, but Luna Perez's case, which was heard by the Supreme Court in January, has also been covered at Education Week and elsewhere. It's being watched extremely closely by folks involved in disability and special education law, since it could have major implications for schools going forward.
That said, the best thing for school systems to stay out of trouble is for them to actually live up to the legal requirement to make sure that all kids get a "free appropriate public education" — a phrase that ought to ring familiar to anyone who's set foot in a college of education because it's on the test. ("Public Law 91-142" might as well be tattooed on my brain from my own Bachelors degree in English Education, because it too was on the test. Both were on all the tests.) Do right by kids with disabilities, and the legal issues involved in Luna Perez's case won't even come up.
When he started school in Sturgis in 2004, Luna Perez hadn't had any school in Mexico, couldn't read lips, didn't know any form of sign language, and couldn't read English or Spanish. But as Education Week explains, his parents thought he was getting the services he needed:
Still, to Luna Perez’s parents, who speak only Spanish and thus had their own challenges communicating with the district, it seemed like the Sturgis school system had their youngest child’s interests at heart. Perez received an individualized education plan, or IEP, under the main federal special education law. The IEP called for him to have an educational aide use sign language to relay his lessons to him. His teachers described him as a curious student who willingly used the signs taught to him.
In reality, though, the school hadn't followed through on its obligation to provide a "free appropriate public education" as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As the Free Press explains, a teacher for deaf students from a larger neighboring district recommended that Luna Perez get instruction in American Sign Language, the lingua franca of the American deaf community. (There's also "Signed English," a word-for-word English-to-signing system that most deaf folks also learn, but isn't as fluid as ASL, which emphasizes concepts over word order, and yes I have just grossly oversimplified.)
But for unknown reasons, the ASL teaching never happened in the 12 years he attended Sturgis schools, and that's why Luna Perez is suing the district:
Instead of being assigned a qualified instructor, Miguel's attorneys argue, he was provided a teaching assistant who tried to teach herself Signed English out of a book and ended up using a sort of idiosyncratic signed shorthand that was unable to give him full access to communicating with his teachers or other students. Throughout years of his schooling, his instructors said he "cannot hear or speak complete sentences to communicate," court records claimed.
Because his aide only taught him the idiosyncratic version of Signed English she sort of made up, the two of them could kind of communicate, but he never learned to communicate with others — not even other users of Signed English, let alone ASL. Had he started using ASL or even real Signed English at the age of nine, Luna Perez might have overcome many of the difficulties he arrived at school with. Instead, he was largely cut off from communicating with others,
likely leaving Miguel unable, in the words of one expert who analyzed him, to ever develop higher-level abilities in reading, writing or math. Even after beginning to learn ASL at the Michigan School for the Deaf in his 20s, signed explanations eluded him. He remains, according to the claim, at greater risk of depression, anxiety and maltreatment. Occupationally, they say he is consigned to a life as an unskilled laborer despite having no cognitive impairment when he entered the school system. [Emphasis added — Dok]
Through it all, his parents thought he was making good progress in school, because after all, he was on the honor roll every year until shortly before graduation, when his parents were informed he would only receive a completion certificate, not a diploma.
And now we get to the other jaw-dropping part of all this: The Supreme Court case isn't going to decide what sort of damages or compensation Luna Perez might be entitled to. Instead, it will decide whether his lawsuit can go forward at all, because there are two chunks of special education law at work here (Chunks is a real legal term, I'm fairly certain). It's complicated, and Yr Dok Zoom is a rhetorician, not a lawyer, so we will skim over a lot of the gory details.
There's IDEA, which regulates public education for students with disabilities, and then there's also the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires reasonable accommodation to public spaces and jobs and stuff, and which, unlike IDEA, allows people who've been treated unjustly because of their disability to sue for damages. Luna Perez's family already settled a complaint in 2018 under IDEA, which resulted in the state paying for him to attend the Michigan School for the Deaf for four years — where, because of the serious long-term deficits resulting from not learning to communicate while he was in school, he made only minimal progress, but far more than he did in the12 years of school he couldn't understand.
The legal fight is over whether Luna Perez can sue Sturgis over that harm and collect damages under the ADA. The catch is that the text of IDEA requires a plaintiff to "exhaust" all possible options under IDEA before suing under any other law. Luna Perez's lawyers argue that would have been crazy, since it would have required his family to reject the settlement that allowed him to get at least some benefit from the School for the Deaf. "Exhausting" every last option would have meant going even more years without learning. So far, though, the school district has won in two lower courts by arguing that's what Luna Perez and his family should have done.
One of his attorneys, Roman Martinez, explained to Education Week that the district's argument
turns the IDEA upside down. [...] The statute clearly wants to get kids like Miguel educational relief as quickly as possible. That means that when the school district offers you everything you want under the statute, you should be allowed to say yes, without giving up other claims under other statutes.
During oral arguments in January, Justice Elena Kagan seemed inclined to agree, asking the district's lawyer, Shay Dvoretzky, "What should Miguel (and his family) have done differently than he did in this case?"
Dvoretzky argued that granting damages under the ADA could lead to parents skipping the steps available in IDEA so they could seek damages instead, but Kagan wasn't having that, replying,
It strikes me it’s the parents that have the greater incentive to have education fixed for their children. [...] This is litigation being run by parents who are trying to do right by their kids.
Even some of the Republican-appointed justices seemed to find Dvoretzky's reasoning a stretch; Amy Coney Barrett said, "It's hard for me to see how the ADA claim ever gets asserted" if there's endless litigation over whether options under IDEA have truly been "exhausted."
For his part, Luna Perez said, in a statement prepared with the help of his lawyers and interpreters,
My case at the U.S. Supreme Court is hard for me to understand. [...] Part of it is about having no interpreter at Sturgis. Part of it is that some judges said I can’t tell my story in court. I want to tell my story in court. I wish I could have gone to college. I don’t have a job, but I want to have one. I want to make my own choices.
He also said that he was proud to have completed a high school diploma at Michigan School for the Deaf, not just a certificate of completion:
At MSD, I learned so many new words and signs. [...] I learned construction. I helped others in my class to measure, and I got to build chairs and tables. I learned about building houses. I want to build houses as a job.
Here's hoping the Court allows his ADA suit to go forward, and that Miguel Luna Perez can have at least a measure of justice for the life that was denied him.
[Detroit Free Press (subscribers only) / Detroit Free Press / Education Week / SCOTUSBlog / Photo: Luna Perez family via Detroit Free Press]
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Daily Wire Gonna Sue All Media For Libelslandering Their Hate Hustler With Direct Quotes
Sure you are, little buddy.
Look out lamestream media! Daily Wire is about to sue all y'all into the ground for noticing that their boy Michael Knowles is a trans-bashing attention whore who publicly advocates for genocide.
\u201cWe are demanding full retractions and apologies from @thedailybeast, @HuffPost, and @RollingStone for their false and libelous claims about @michaeljknowles, and have referred these all to our General Counsel.\u201d— Alyssa Cordova (@Alyssa Cordova) 1677975270
Oh, do you, Alyssa? Are you henceforth and forthwith demanding that Messrs. Beast, Stone, and Post retract their defamatory statements calling out that Howdy Doody-looking bigot? Will you be telling Daddy Benny about it if they don't comply with your Twitter tantrum? Because defamation is a legal term with an actual meaning, as Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro, a graduate of Harvard Law, knows perfectly well. And although it appears from LinkedIn that your general counsel has been practicing law for less than a decade and lacks extensive First Amendment experience, you can be sure that even that guy knows that this ain't defamation.
Knowles, a failed actor who reinvented himself as a reactionary, fascist shit-stirrer, is riding high on a wave of anti-trans bigotry. Less than a week ago he earned ire from decent people for calling to "ban transgenderism entirely" and labeling gender-affirming healthcare a "weird, occult sexual ritual."
And, look, your Wonkette is not new. We do appreciate that he repeated his remarks for the crowd of dozens at CPAC because he intends to make his name by spewing hatred of trans people and provoking "liberal tears."
\u201cMichael Knowles is openly calling for genocide against trans people at CPAC. "Transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely."\n\nhttps://t.co/uW6pAw02vI\u201d— Alejandra Caraballo (@Alejandra Caraballo) 1677955206
It's hard to know where the line is between sounding the alarm about the murderous rage against trans people that has become the Republican Party's main platform and giving lowlife dweebs like Knowles the media oxygen he needs to survive. Because his arguments are a tautological, anti-science arglebargle that would convince no one who wasn't already Team Bigot.
There can be no middle way when dealing with transgenderism. It is all or nothing. If transgenderism is true, if men really can become women, then it's true for everybody of all ages. If transgenderism is false, as it is, if men really can't become women, as they cannot, then it's false for everybody, too. And if it's false, then we should not indulge it. Especially since that indulgence requires taking away the rights and customs of so many people. If it is false, then for the good of society, and especially for the good of the poor people who have fallen prey to this confusion, transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely. The whole preposterous ideology, at every level.
If truth is falsity, and falsity is truth, then reductio ad absurdum, carry the one, and apply the "I am always the victim" algorithm, and bingo bango bongo, trans people need to not exist. NOT THAT HE'S CALLING FOR GENOCIDE, MIND YOU! Oh, hey, can anyone come up with some historical examples of nations which sought to remove wrongthinking subgroups from society to make it
rein pure? How did that one work out?
Knowles has defended himself by mumbling some nonsense syllables about transgender Americans not being an ethnic group, or some such? Honestly, who gives a shit what that hate hustler has to say. And yeah, he repeated the threats to sue on his own Twitter timeline. Your Wonkette DGAF.
What is interesting is watching the (comparative) adults in the room lose their shit over this nonsense and immediately point to it as reason to do the dumb thing that their base is clamoring for. Here's Sen. Mike Lee from Utah using his "based" personal account to insist that Knowles has a winning case, if we all just hold hands and pretend that the laws are different from what they actually are.
\u201cIt is indeed libelous. It\u2019s an example of how a bad Supreme Court ruling from 1964 (NY Times v. Sullivan) has created a monster\u2014giving the news media a license to lie about any public figure who can\u2019t prove that the reporter acted with \u201cactual malice,\u201d which is nearly impossible.\u201d— Mike Lee (@Mike Lee) 1678039599
This is clearly a concession that Knowles's hypothetical libel case is DOA, which Lee, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito twice, knows damn well. But repealing the New York Times v. Sullivan standard for defamation of a public figure — i.e. knowing or reckless publication of false facts — has become a conservative cause ever since Justices Thomas and Gorsuch signaled that they might be open to it. In fact, Florida has a bill pending in its legislature right now to do just that, but only for media defendants.
Trump himself famously promised to "open up the libel laws" back on the campaign trail in 2016 — a position roughly analogous to Richard Spencer saying that he wants to open up the laws making it illegal to punch Nazis. Trump was at the time peddling fantastic lies about Hillary Clinton, particularly about her health and her family charity, the Clinton Global Initiative. The former president tells 50 lies before breakfast, apparently as a matter of principle. The last person on earth who should be howling to make it easier to sue for defamation of a public figure is Donald freakin' Trump.
And the last political party that should be demanding repeal of the Sullivan standard is the GOP, which owes its position in no small measure to a media echo chamber devoted to flogging nonsensical lies about everything, but mostly some about a looming genocide of white people by an invading or uppity brown horde. FFS, Fox News is currently in the middle of a $1.6 billion defamation suit brought by Dominion Voting Systems in which the plaintiff has elicited proof that Fox knowingly told lies because it was afraid of losing its audience to Newsmax, which was peddling the election fraud hoax 24-7. We're all treating Dominion as if it's a public figure under Sullivan, although the court has not yet ruled on that. But if the Republicans got their way and ditched the Sullivan standard, it would be even easier for everyone from Hunter Biden to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez to Hillary Clinton to sue Fox, Newsmax, OAN, the Gateway Pundit, and of course the Daily Wire for filling the ether with a fog of abject lies.
In summary and in conclusion, Republicans are trans-bashing ghouls and we need to be good allies. And 51-year-old men who describe themselves as "based" should probably delete their browser history.
And, PS, good luck recovering for defamation when you yourself have republished the supposedly defamatory statement far and wide.
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Kellyanne Conway, Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels Walk Into A Bar. Bartender Says 'Grand Jury's One Block Over'
I got a feelin', that tonight's gonna be good night.
Time to party like it's 2018! Everything old is new again, and we're all hot and bothered about Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels getting ready to take down Individual 1. (Michael Avenatti's not invited to the party this time, he's got, uh, another engagement.)
Or we could not kick the football, Charlie Brown.
Definitely one of those!
After refusing to indict Donald Trump for financial crimes, leaving it to New York Attorney General Letitia James to bring a civil prosecution, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is returning to the White Whale of Trump investigations. In January the news broke that he'd empaneled a grand jury to investigate the $130,000 hush money payoff to adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016 to keep her from talking about the time she bumped bits with the future president at a golf tournament.
Michael Cohen pled guilty in 2018 to making an illegal campaign contribution far in excess of the statutory cap, which is a federal crime. Trump and his family then laundered the payment through the Trump Organization, which reimbursed Cohen for fronting the payoff to Daniels via a series of payments disguised as "retainer" fees. Falsifying business records is a misdemeanor, but the New York Times reports that it can be bumped up to a felony if it's committed in the service of another crime. So maybe if they squint right, prosecutors can make out a violation of state election law to graft onto this one, but ... look, there's a reason Bragg and his predecessor Cy Vance never swung at this pitch.
Whatever the eventual outcome, DA Bragg does seem to be turning over every slimy rock. Yesterday the Times reported that Trump campaign adviser Kellyanne Conway had testified before the grand jury, which seems odd because we'd assume that Conway, who is not only a lawyer but also a political creature who has more than a passing familiarity with campaign finance law, would have the sense to stay far, far away from this fucktussle. But apparently not!
If we had been reading Michael Cohen's book — and really, why would we? — we'd have known that Conway knew about the payoff back in 2016.
Tell us, NYT:
“Mr. Cohen has said that Ms. Conway played a small yet notable role in the payment: she was the person Mr. Cohen alerted after making the payment, he wrote in his 2020 memoir.
I called Trump to confirm that the transaction was completed, and the documentation all in place, but he didn’t take my call — obviously a very bad sign, in hindsight,” he wrote. Instead, he wrote, Ms. Conway “called and said she’d pass along the good news.”
Girl! What were you thinking putting your fingerprints on this shit? (Assuming it's true. Michael Cohen has been somewhat, say, veracity-challenged.)
Anyhoo, here's Kellyanne last night inveighing against the mendacity of the Biden administration.
\u201cKellyanne asks a Fox audience: How many times have you been lied to by the people whose job it is to tell you the truth in the media all in the service of getting the president.\u201d— Acyn (@Acyn) 1677724749
Why, yes, she is talking to Sean Hannity, the same guy who was just outed in Dominion Voting Systems' defamation suit against his employer for having deliberately flogged election lies because he knew his viewers couldn't handle the truth. Like recognizes like!
Whatever. Let's give Rep. Dan Goldman the last word with this epic troll of Conway, who so persistently violated the Hatch Act's ban on use of her office to campaign that the Office of Special Counsel recommended firing her.
“Blah, blah, blah. If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work,” she scoffed, because laws are for the little people. “Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”
\u201cGoldman: Today I\u2019m offering the Kellyanne Conway Amendment that will allow for prison sentences for knowing and intentional violations of The Hatch Act\u201d— Acyn (@Acyn) 1677609307
Blah, blah, blah, say it under oath, you mendacious hack.
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What Good Arguments Will Supreme Court Ignore In Student Debt Relief Case?
Maybe they'll be persuaded by logic and reason. Maybe monkeys will fly out of Alito's butt.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on the Biden administration's plan to relieve student loan debt by up to $20,000 per borrower. If you want to listen live, audio will be streaming at 10 Eastern. Joe Biden proposed the plan back in August, and various rightwing legal groups immediately went to work finding plaintiffs to sue to stop it, which turned out to be a challenge because to have standing, a plaintiff would have to prove they'd been harmed by a good thing. Eventually, they got lower federal courts to block the program. As a result, not a penny of student debt has yet been forgiven, even for the roughly 16 million folks the Education Department has already approved for debt forgiveness, or for the 10 million other borrowers waiting to have their applications processed.
Under the Biden plan, borrowers could have up to $10,000 of student debt forgiven if they had annual income less than $125,000 (or $250,000 for married folks filing jointly). People who received Pell Grants in college would have up to $20,000 in debt cancelled. The loan forgiveness would be tax free, and 90 percent of the debt relief would go to borrowers making $75,000 a year or less. The proposal was solidly targeted at middle and lower-income borrowers, and what with the $20K in relief for Pell grant recipients, would eliminate student debt for about half of borrowers.
And who knows, maybe the Supremes will decide the program can go forward once it decides the case. We like nice surprises!
Here's Joe Biden To Tell You How He'll Cancel Assloads Of Student Debt!
Joe Biden CANCEL CULTURES Student Debt! So How Do You Get You Some Of That?
Joe Biden Asks Supreme Court To Let Him Forgive Student Loans, If That's Not Too Much Trouble
Joe Biden Ready To Cancel Supreme Court's College Loans Or Something
In a brief filed in January, the Biden administration outlined its legal strategy in appealing two cases brought by opponents of the law. The administration will argue that it has the authority to forgive student debt under the 2003 HEROES Act, which enables the Education Department to waive student debt obligations during times of national emergency. And hey, we have us a national emergency, what with the COVID pandemic and the resulting economic disruption.
Federal student loan payments (for most borrowers) have been in a moratorium since March 2020, and the administration also argues that requiring people to start paying loans again all at once could lead to a financial emergency if some of that debt isn't relieved, noting that
ending that pause without providing some additional relief for lower-income borrowers would cause delinquency and default rates to spike above pre-pandemic levels. This Court should not compel that damaging and destabilizing result.
Given that the Supremes have demonstrated they don't give a community college rat's ass about the real-world consequences of their decisions on abortion and guns, only on the imaginary views of the Founders, that argument may carry less weight.
The plaintiffs in the case include a group of six Republican-led states that sued to overturn program, arguing that debt relief will deprive them of revenue. That lawsuit was combined with a second case filed by a rightwing group on behalf of two borrowers who didn't qualify for the program, and are arguing that this food is terrible — and such small portions! Here's a summary from the Associated Press:
A lower court dismissed the lawsuit involving the following states: Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina. The court said the states could not challenge the program because they weren’t harmed by it. But a panel of three federal appeals court judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit — all of them appointed by Republican presidents — put the program on hold during an appeal. The Supreme Court then agreed to weigh in.
The students’ case involves Myra Brown, who is ineligible for debt relief because her loans are commercially held, and Alexander Taylor, who is eligible for just $10,000 and not the full $20,000 because he didn’t receive a Pell grant. They say that the Biden administration didn’t go through the proper process in enacting the plan, among other things.
Texas-based U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, an appointee of President Donald Trump, sided with the students and ruled to block the program. Pittman ruled that the Biden administration did not have clear authorization from Congress to implement the program. A federal appeals court left Pittman’s ruling in place, and the Supreme Court agreed to take up the case along with the states’ challenge.
The main questions that are likely to come up will involve two main areas: Do the plaintiffs actually have standing to sue at all — that is, can they show they've actually been harmed? And then the other big deal question is whether the HEROES Act actually does allow the administration to forgive debts.
Here's the PBS NewsHour linky for you to listen to the arguments, if you dare.
[AP / Biden V. Nebraska brief]
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