WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court appeared Wednesday to sympathize with the arguments of a deaf student who sued his public school system for providing an inadequate education, a major legal challenge for other students with disabilities and their families.

The question for the judges involves a federal law that guarantees disabled students an education specific to their needs. For 90 minutes in the courtroom, the liberal and conservative judges suggested they were inclined to rule in favor of student Miguel Luna Pérez.

His attorney, Román Martínez, said that for 12 years, the public school system in Sturgis, Michigan, «neglected Miguel, denied him an education and lied to his parents about the progress he was supposedly making in school.»

“This shameful conduct permanently stunted Miguel’s ability to communicate with the outside world,” Martinez said.

Judge Elena Kagan indicated that she believed the argument that Pérez had done “everything right” in pursuing his case.

“It’s hard for me to see how that’s not true. What should Miguel have done differently than he did in this case? Kagan said. Liberal justice suggested to a lawyer for the school system, Shay Dvoretzky, that such cases are pursued «by parents trying to do right by their children.»

Perez, now 27, was in the courtroom. He observed with the help of American Sign Language translators and certified interpreters for the deaf, who can help when a person’s communication skills are limited.

It remains difficult for Pérez, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico at age 9, to make himself understood. Perez’s attorneys say the school system failed him by failing to provide him with a qualified sign language interpreter. An assistant who helped him did not know ASL, but he tried to learn sign language from a book. Basically, he invented a signature system that only she and Perez understood, leaving him unable to communicate with the others, her lawyers said.

The school system also deceived her parents into believing that she was on her way to earning her high school diploma. However, just before graduation, her family was told that she only qualified for a «certificate of completion,» not a diploma.

His family responded by filing claims under two laws: the comprehensive Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The latter guarantees children with disabilities a free public education adapted to their specific needs.

Perez’s family and the school district eventually settled the IDEA claims. The district agreed to pay for additional schooling and sign language instruction for Pérez and his family, among other things. The family then went to federal court and, under the ADA, sought monetary compensation, which is not available under IDEA.

Lower courts said the settlement barred Perez from pursuing his ADA claims in federal court. Perez’s lawyers said the 2-1 decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, written by former President Donald Trump appointee Judge Amul Thapar, was out of step with all other federal courts in appeals that have considered the issue.

Former federal education officials were among those who told the Supreme Court in written briefs that the appeals court decision was wrong. Officials said upholding lower court decisions would hurt children with disabilities by forcing them to choose between resolving problems immediately and giving up other claims or delaying to try to get more complete relief.

While IDEA encourages settlements, upholding the lower court’s decision would force students and their families to “forgo prompt relief and waste administrative time, money and resources” to preserve their other claims, they said. The Biden administration also urged the court to side with Perez.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was among the judges who seemed inclined to agree with Perez. The liberal justice said it understood that «Congress thought that dual actions, at least in the forthcoming circumstances, were possible and that was fine.»

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative, noted that rejecting an IDEA settlement offer means risking not being able to pursue attorneys’ fees. Her conservative colleague, Justice Neil Gorsuch, suggested that the IDEA text also supports Perez.

An association of national school boards and an association of school superintendents were among those who told the court in written briefs that the lower courts were right. They said ruling otherwise would weaken IDEA’s collaborative process to resolve problems and lead to longer and more expensive court proceedings.

Perez graduated from the Michigan School for the Deaf in June 2020 with a diploma. She said in a written statement provided with the help of an interpreter and translator that she learned construction skills in school and wants to build houses for a job. His case in the Supreme Court is difficult for him to understand, he said, although he understands that it is partly about «not having an interpreter.»

“I wish I could have gone to college,” he said. “I don’t have a job, but I want to have one. I want to make my own decisions.»

A decision is awaited in his case, Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools, 21-887, by the end of June.