Mercyhurst Magazine Fall 2020

Alum pursues First Amendment battle all the way to Supreme Court

being mainstreamed into the local school district,” Sandra said. So Jim entered sixth grade at Sunrise Drive Elementary and they provided speech therapy and a sign language interpreter. But when Jim hit eighth grade, the district had no high school; instead, it paid the tuition for parents to send their kids to other schools. Sandra and Larry decided Salpointe High School, run by the Carmelite Fathers, was Jim’s best shot at the kind of high school education they wanted for him. “We asked the school district if it would pay for an interpreter and other needs and, at first, the answer was yes,” Sandra said. But district officials got together with the county attorney and they decided, she said, “in order to be eligible for these services, my son had to attend public school.” Sandra had been doing some research and discovered U.S. Public Law 94-142, the Education of Handicapped Children Act. “It stipulates that whether it be public, private or sectarian, handicapped children are to be provided with those services.” After one meeting with school officials, Sandra said, “I came home and said, ‘We’re fighting this.’ My husband agreed.” Jim Zobrest’s case hit the federal courts— with a dull thud. The judge in the U.S. District Court in Tucson ruled for the state

and the school district. The struggle then went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco for a December 1990 hearing. That court took 18 months to make a decision and it was against the Zobrests. In the meantime, Larry and Sandra Zobrest were paying $8,500 a year for an interpreter for Jim at Salpointe. There had been one encouraging part to the Appeals Court experience. One member of the three-judge panel had issued a ringing dissent and there was hope the Supreme Court would listen to his opinion and not the majority. On February 24, the U. S. Supreme Court held a hearing and Sandra and Jim Zobrest, Mary Prus and former Erieites Ginny and Sandy Duncan got a chance to see how the court operates. Epilogue: After 45 years in Arizona, the entire Zobrest family moved to Mooresville, North Carolina, in 2017. Jim Zobrest operates a a pet sitting business there called O’dogg and McKitty Pet Sitting. In June, Buffalo, New York, history professors David Gerber and Bruce Dierenfield published a book about the Zobrests’ Supreme Court battle titled Disability Rights and Religious Liberty in Education: The Story Behind Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District .

Condensed from a story by Jerry Trambley in Mercyhurst Magazine , Winter 1993-1994

Sandra Mangone Zobrest ‘70, ‘77 (MA) and her son, Jim, 19, who is profoundly deaf, started their search for justice for Jim in the federal court system in 1980. They reached the end of their quest with a favorable U.S. Supreme Court decision June 18, 1993. language interpreter for Jim while he was in high school, even if he did choose to go to a Catholic school. And, on July 1, the Zobrests and Catalina Foothills School District reached a settlement to reimburse the money the family had to pay for interpreters and lawyers to get Jim justice and a good high school education. The high court ruled that the school district should have provided a sign Sandra married Gannon University grad Larry Zobrest two years after they finished college. Their son, Jim, was born in Erie in 1974 and as soon as she knew he was deaf, Sandra started what became a virtual career as an advocate for the deaf, especially deaf children. The Zobrests moved to Tucson in 1980. Jim attended the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind until fifth grade, but it wasn’t challenging enough. “He was bored and we just felt he was capable of

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