Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Special Education Hearing Officer Qualifications - Part III

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Last week we discussed the new qualifications for special education hearing officers. This week, I'm going to talk about how the new qualifications pertain to the education and training of hearing officers.

As I have mentioned in each post in this series, please note that I have a number of potential biases here. First, I am a hearing officer and/or a mediator for four states. Second, I do a lot of special ed law consulting for states. Third, I have conducted hearing officer trainings at national conferences, at regional trainings and for a number of individual states. I have trained hearing officers from every state. I have definite opinions here and my business interests could color my thinking. Although I do not believe that these interests affect my opinions, please keep this disclosure in mind.

The changes in the qualifications for hearing officers are significant. The fact that the Congress changed this section of the law signals that it has at least some concern about the quality of hearing officers.

In the most recent post in this series I described the qualifications for hearing officers added by the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA: the knowledge and ability to conduct hearings in accordance with standard legal practice; the knowledge and ability to write decisions in accordance with standard legal practice; knowledge of and ability to understand special education law.

State education agencies who train and hire hearing officers should be mindful of these changes. Those who train hearing officers should be people who have experience in conducting due process hearings and in writing decisions thereafter to be sure that the state's hearing officers are taught how to do so in accordance with standard legal practice. This new practical component is at least as important as an update on the law. New hearing officers should be able to cite prior experience in using these skills. OSEP has noted that pursuant to its general supervisory responsibility, each State Education Agency must ensure that its hearing officers are sufficiently trained to meet the new qualifications enumerated in IDEA. 71 Fed. Register No. 156 at page 46705 (August 14, 2006.)

In addition, I have heard from a number of states that OSEP monitoring visits are now focusing upon hearing officer training. State Education Agencies are being asked to explain and justify their trainings. They are also being asked to produce training agendas and the qualifications of trainers. All states should take a look at how they train their hearing officers and ask whether improvements might be needed.

Next week we will look at some of the many recent cases where state hearing systems have been sued by various stakeholders. We will also examine whether lawyers make better hearing officers.

In your experience, what has been the quality of the due process hearing officers you have encountered?


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  4. As a qualified hearing officer and under the new requirements, are you aware of any provision that allows a hearing officer to ignore (not respond to) a sufficiency challenge filed by a parent regarding a due process hearing to terminate their child's educational services unrelated to a "discipline case"? What happens when the hearing officer fails to answer the challenge?

  5. I am a parent involved in two cases in CT. I did not feel that the Hearing Officers were impartial (already disclosed myself as parent, so, since I lost 2/2, you may read into my possible bias). After the decisions against me, I asked for full disclosure of relationships between Attys and HOs. I received no replies. I did Internet searches and found out that one was previously from the same firm that presently represents the district, and, though now retired from said firm, gets hired by same firm during same year as my cases. Any suggestions? It seems like conflict of interest. Also, employees of the BOE are supposed to recuse themselves from decision making in these situations, but three administrators reviewed my decision in my request and they, too, denied accommodations. I believe our town would be liable to any lawsuits that might arise from other districts if they don't now make full disclosure that they know that there were conflicts of interest.

  6. Bruce & Anon,

    Thank you for your comments. As an impartial (mediator, hearing officer & state consultant) I never represent or advise either parents or districts. You should consult a lawyer licensed in your state, preferably one familiar with the ever-growing field of special education law.

    Good luck,


  7. Training the hearing well is necessary to maintain law and order in the society. It has to be monitored properly to ensure it is done in a right way. Hearing officers should be well enough to handle all kinds of situation and make a right decision.