Midvale School for the Gifted Alumni Association

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Special Education News

Normally, I would tend to avoid such an obvious work-related post, however, this ruling bears discussion. Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that parents bear the burden of proof when taking a school district to hearing over disputed services. This news? HUGE. Districts, right or wrong, spend inordinate amounts of money on attorneys and administrative costs when forced to defend the services they provide to children with disabilities. Here in Massachusetts, the Bureau of Special Education Appeals inordinately sides with the parents, even when a district has a solid case. They look for some minor procedural error, like form N1 was not attached to form N3a and submitted within 10 working days of a meeting. (No, I do not expect you to understand what I'm talking about, as it's pointless)

I've been to one of these types of hearings, and it immediately went into settlement talks. A HUGE waste of time, as the district prevailed eventually, but not after shelling out THOUSANDS of dollars to the parent, who did not have to prove to us the money was being spent for educational reasons. Which only hurts us in the long run, as we have less of a pool of resources to draw from. This doesn't eliminate the district from having to prove they're working for the student's best interest, but now it looks at these cases like a civil court case, and as Justice O'Connor wrote, "the burden of proof lies where it usually does, with the party seeking relief".

I'm anxiously awaiting how this will play out on the smaller local scale, now that there is a federal precedent.


Blogger trusty getto said...

Yea, it is huge. The ruling will be beneficial for most districts. Those that provide the services they are s'posed to will save money. One of my fears, though, is that districts will use this new burden to save money, particularly when they know a family can't afford to fight a decision. All that money that the districts needed to spend to defend will now need to be spent by families seeking relief.

Instead of shifting this burden onto people who are not likely able to bear it, I would have like to seen the feds simply provide the money to pay for the services they mandate.

8:35 PM  
Blogger trusty getto said...

See today's editorial in the NYT:

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Claude said...

Oddly enough, despite the case originating in Maryland, the decision makes no difference whatsoever in Baltimore City, where the school district is operating under a Consent Decree. The parents get represented by the Maryland Disability Law Center, which bills everything back to the district. In short, the city pays to sue itself when we go to due process.

This while scene is a double-edged sword, however. There are many, MANY times where a parent wants their child to go straight from a general education setting to a non-public school. Federal law says that we have to try (or at least seriously consider) less restrictive measures first. I'm part of the chain that ensures that that's what takes place. I've seen it go both ways, where a school says on, say, a progress report that a student is making progress but it's not showing in the classwork, and I've also seen reports that suggest a student is doing terribly when their test scores say the exact opposite.

As long as a district can keep its own nose clean, and maintain the appropriate level of accuracy in its documentation, a large percentage of these cases wouldn't even happen. (And they're not that common, anyway: in eight years of teaching I've had one case go to the mediation level. But YMMV.)

11:49 PM  

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