Part of what I do involves being a special education mediator, hearing officer and complaint investigator. Another part of what I do involves teaching/training others who do these jobs. When I am training- it sometimes helps to discuss best practices. Another way to learn these jobs is to look at cases that were not handled well, the bad examples.
Here is a bad example: an IDEA case goes to a due process hearing. The hearing officer limits each party to three witnesses. Let's stop there, this limit has an arbitrary ring to it, something that reviewing courts do not like. I understand time limits to ensure that a hearing is not unreasonably long, but three witnesses seems like a tough limit. But that was not the issue here...
The school district presented its evidence first. After the district's case, the parents move for judgment. This is the functional equivalent of of a motion for directed verdict in a civil trial. I really do not like these motions in an administrative hearing. There is no jury in an administrative hearing, and policy and constitutional considerations favor a full hearing and opportunity to be heard at the administrative level.
In any event, the hearing officer considered the motion and requested briefs from counsel for the parties. Let's stop there, if a hearing officer is going to entertain one of these motions, briefs are a bad idea. There are timelines on the decisions in these hearings which are intended to achieve a prompt resolution of the dispute. Briefs on a mid-hearing motion delay the process unnecessarily.
Once the briefs were received, the hearing officer denied the motion for judgment and ruled that the school district provided FAPE. What is wrong with this picture?
The parents never had an opportunity to present their evidence. The hearing officer violated the statute and likely the procedural due process protections of the Constitution. The court reversed and remanded.
OK now that was a bad example. Any questions? You can read the court decision at SW & JW ex rel WW v Florham Park Bd of Education 70 IDELR 46 (D.N.J. 5/24/2017).