Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why Don't Parents & Districts Like Special Ed Hearings

Complaint Department Grenade
Complaint Department Grenade (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do a lot of work as a mediator, complaint investigator and a hearing officer in special education cases.  I also train folks who do these jobs.  I have often noticed the animosity that people have for the special ed hearing system.  I was at a conference once and said that I was a hearing officer, and one guy spat on the floor.  This started me to wondering why people hate special ed due process hearings.

Here is another example from the cases decided last year.  In Luo v Baldwin Union Free Sch Dist 60 IDELR 281 (ED NY 3/21/13), the parent appealed a special ed hearing decision.  In their complaint filed with the court, the parents referred to the due process hearing as an "assh*** parade."  They also described the proceedings as "bulls***."  (Ed note: the parents spelled out the whole words; mine is the cleaned up version...)  The Court had to threaten sanctions if the parents continued to disrespect the proceedings. Those are strong words; why were they so upset?  This seems like a common theme.

So what are we in the special ed hearing business doing wrong?  I'd be interested in your thoughts.  Also look for follow ups on this in the Weekly Question and the comments thereto.
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  1. Many of the parents that I hear about feel that the system is stacked against them. In TX parents lose most of the hearings, in my opinion largely because the burden of proof is on them if they file for the hearing. This makes it difficult for the parents who can afford an attorney much less for those who cannot. Some states have passed laws that the burden of proof is always on the school. That can have a large impact on the number of complaints that get settled before a hearing & the outcome of hearings. I have not seen statistics in a while but in the past there were large differences between the number of hearings in different states.

    The number & quality of parent attorneys makes a big difference in the outcome of hearings. TX just passed a law that allows non-attorneys to represent parents. However, the rules say that discussions between that person & the parents is not confidential. The school attorneys did not lobby against the bill because they believe that it will increase their business.

  2. As a parent and an attorney and someone who has been through a due process hearing, I do not necessarily believe that parents are angry at the H.O. I view it as misplaced anger. In order to be able to present a case at a due process hearing, parents typically must pay tens of thousands of dollars, not only for attorney's fees, but also for 2 or 3 evaluations. [Not to mention the cost of the private therapy and meds.] At the same time, if they have privately placed their child, as we did, the cost of obtaining a "free" appropriate public education is not a reality. In addition to the above, add the uncertainty of recovering any of the above funds and, most importantly, making sure your child gets what he or she needs. Simply stated, the parents are angry at the school district, but are redirecting it at the H.O.

  3. As a brand new special education teacher the idea of going through a due process hearing seems exhausting. In speaking with a parent who had to go through due process, the entire ordeal was costly, tiresome, and frustrating. I would agree with families who feel the due process hearing is emotional and something they would rather not go through. Additionally, from the perspective of the school district, if they seem justified that the case their representing is factual and evidenced, then the due process hearing appeals as a waste of time, resources, and energy. All-in-all a due process hearing is something all parties do not look forward to but evidently must endure for the moment. For parents, those associated in favor of the district may be considered, although not logical, in accord with the district and therefore, the "enemy."

  4. Thanks cnoe, JC & Anon,

    I appreciate your comments.