The Supreme Court this week is considering whether or not parents should be able to bring administrative cases against school districts without the aide of an attorney. Unfortunately, even if the Supreme Court finds in favor of the parents, the parents lose. The system is stacked against the parents with or without an attorney’s assistance.
In Texas, under the federal law (I.D.E.I.A.), parents must exhaust all of their administrative remedies prior to filing a lawsuit. The parents, according to a recent decision out of the United States District Court, Western District of Washington at Seattle ., (J.L. and M.L. and their Minor Daughter, K.L., Plaintiffs v. Mercer Island School District, Defendant), determined that the bar for educating students with disabilities under I.D.E.I.A. (2004) has risen significantly. On the other hand, the Supreme Court decided in (Schaffer v. Weast, 546 U. S. _ (2005)) that the parents carry the burden of proof regarding whether the school is providing an appropriate program for those children with disabilities making the burden near impossible. In Texas, and in other states, the hearing officers have biases against the parents. The Texas Education Agency contracts with and trains the hearing officers. Those lawyers who function as hearing officers have no background in education. The majority of them (maybe all of them) have no background in practicing education law. They do not have children with disabilities and so lack empathy or understanding of the needs of our special children.
These hearing officers are malleable to learning only that taught to them by a non-empathetic bureaucracy. The Texas Education Agency used to print the results of the hearings. They are no longer doing so since the parents’ outcries against the system have been noticed.
The system needs to change. First, a neutral agency needs to be established to hire and train hearing officers nationwide. Second, that neutral agency should be required to employ hearing officers who have either experience as education attorneys or who have children with disabilities (preferably ones who had to fight the system to get children what they are required to receive under federal law.) Third, the decisions of the hearing officers should be reviewed by an oversight committee established for that particular purpose. That committee should be composed of master teachers of children with special needs, college professors who teach future Special Education teachers and others, preferably very few administrators, who have a background in teaching techniques and methodology, in understanding transition and other special education issues. That committee should provide feedback to the neutral agency and develop continuing education for the hearing officers.
This agency needs to a federal organization. States should not be responsible for monitoring their own programs. This change needs to come about quickly since our children with special needs reach adulthood by becoming productive citizens who can contribute to our society.
Karen Dalglish Seal
Attorney at Law
Parent of a child with a disability
Former special education administrator
Former teacher of children with special needs including Deaf children
202 East Park Avenue
San Antonio, Texas 78212
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