The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, recently held that even where a disabled student has reached the age of majority under state law, his parents may litigate IDEA claims against a school district on his behalf.

In Stanek v. St. Charles Cmty. Unit Sch. Dist. #330, the parents of a disabled student, Matthew, filed a special education due process complaint claiming that the school district failed to provide their son with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). The complaint was dismissed, and the parents challenged that dismissal with a lawsuit in state court which was then removed to federal court by the school district. At that time, Matthew was 19 years old and in college. The school district argued that the case should be dismissed because the lawsuit should have been filed by Matthew, who had reached the age of majority.

The parents pointed to a “Delegation of Rights” form that Matthew had signed that granted his parents the right, under state law, to make educational decisions on his behalf. The federal trial court found that the form may have covered educational rights, but did not cover litigation rights, which transferred to Matthew when he turned 18. The trial court thus dismissed the case.

Matthew and his parents appealed, and the Seventh Circuit agreed that the delegation of rights covers both educational rights and litigation rights. The Court explained that it has “no reason to think that the Illinois statute was intended to permit a child receiving IDEA benefits to give control over educational decisions to a parent but not allow the parent to follow through with litigation if necessary.” 

Based on this case, school districts should be aware that agreements delegating educational rights to parents may also effectively transfer other rights to the parent, including the right to litigate challenges under the IDEA on behalf of a student.