In 1988, Sandi and Larry Zobrest sued a suburban Tucson, Arizona, school district that had denied their hearing-impaired son a taxpayer-funded interpreter in his Roman Catholic high school. The Catalina Foothills School District argued that providing a public resource for a private, religious school created an unlawful crossover between church and state. The Zobrests, however, claimed that the district had infringed on both their First Amendment right to freedom of religion and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Bruce J. Dierenfield and David A. Gerber use the Zobrests’ story to examine the complex history and jurisprudence of disability accommodation and educational mainstreaming. They look at the family’s effort to acquire educational resources for their son starting in early childhood and the choices the Zobrests made to prepare him for life in the hearing world rather than the deaf community. Dierenfield and Gerber also analyze the thorny church-state issues and legal controversies that informed the case, its journey to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the impact of the high court’s ruling on the course of disability accommodation and religious liberty.