We understand that you might be new to the world of special education, or simply more interested in understanding some of the specific details of what due process is and how a complaint is drafted.

A Beginner’s Guide to the Special Education Legal Process #7: Going to a Hearing

This is a summary of the third edition of CSNLG’s podcast Special Education Matters. In this podcast, our host Michael Boll and lead attorney Richard Isaacs discuss the rare event of a due process hearing, and what families should expect going into this trial. The podcast can be found here.

Overview of the Due-Process Hearing

  • A Due Process Hearing happens after many attempts have been made between a school district and families to find a solution that both sides can agree on, but no resolution is reached.
  • The final step (outside of appeals)  that can be taken to get the district to provide the solution the family is after.
  • Happens very rarely. 94-97% of cases settle before it reaches a due process hearing.

What Does the Process Look Like?

  • Held at the school district. Sometimes in the same conference room that the mediation took place in.
  • There’ll be a table for the judge, a table for the witness, a table for the district, and a table for the family
  • IEPs and assessments are often submitted as evidence, in which case the assessor would be considered a witness for questioning.
  • The due process hearing is relatively informal and is an easy process to navigate for the most part. It should be thought of more as a question and answer session. While there are inevitably rules on how to enter evidence to take it under submission for the court, there’s still a lot of flexibility which make is much less formal than your typical civil hearing.


  • Cross-examinations can often get frustrating as district councils will often interrupt and object and make it more difficult for the witness and the family.
  • In spite of this, the ALJs are typically helpful in quieting that and making the process easier.
  • It’s important to remember that our objective is to get the facts and information out – we have nothing to hide. When the district continues to object, it’s usually when they’re afraid of that information getting out to the judge.
  • Students almost never testify as a witness.
  • Parents almost always testify. This isn’t too scary because the objective is really just to tell the story of your own child to the ALJ.

What’s the Time Span of the Hearing?

  • You should be able to present the entirety of your case in no more than three days.
  • The hearing starts at 9:00 – 9:30 in the morning, depending on the day of the week.
  • The hearing runs until 4:30 – 5:00, depending on when the last witness of that day is finished.
  • Some attorneys will try to drag a hearing out – we have to pay for experts, so wasting time makes it more expensive.

How Does the Hearing Conclude?

  • The decision doesn’t come at the end of the hearing; rather, the judge takes the case under submission with a written decision being prepared about 30 days after the trial is closed.
  • Documents are submitted to the judge as evidence.
  • It’s important to note that closing arguments aren’t made. The closing arguments are written. This allows everyone to take the time to look at the evidence and apply it to the law before submitting it to the court.
  • At the conclusion of the hearing, the case will remain open and the judge will give you a later due date to submit closing briefs.
  • After the closing briefs are submitted, the case is closed and new evidence can come in.
  • The court will then make a written decision usually in about 30 days after those closing briefs are submitted.
  • Unless the case is appealed, the case comes to a close at that point.

This summary is part of our complete Beginner’s Guide to the Special Education Legal Process.


Michael Boll, father to a son with autism and CSNLG team member, talks with attorney Richard Isaacs about going to hearing. When all other efforts to find an agreement have failed, heading to a hearing is one of he final things for a family to do.

Michael Boll, father to a son with autism and CSNLG team member, talks with attorney Richard Isaacs about mediation. Something that is required by the California Office of Administrative Hearing prior to a full hearing.

Michael Boll, father to a son with autism and CSNLG team member, talks with attorney Richard Isaacs about the scary thought of a district suing the family. It does happen and sometimes they feel compelled to do it.




This article is a summary of the podcast, Deciding to File a Lawsuit from the podcast Special Education Matters, with host Michael Boll and CSNLG lead attorney Richard Isaacs. The podcast can be found here. This conversation focuses on what happens when a family may decide to file a due process complaint if they disagree with the districts offer of services.

What will happen after filing a due process complaint?

  • A Resolution Session within 15 days must be scheduled
  • Mediation may be scheduled
  • Trial/hearing if no resolution reached

What leads to the due process complaint?

  • After an IEP has been conducted there may be outstanding issues to resolve or services expected.
  • The family and the district cannot come to agreement on what is considered a FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education)
  • Parents have paid for educational services and are requesting reimbursement.
  • If there is no agreement, a due process complaint is filed.

How does the resolution process begin?

  • Once the due process complaint is filed, a resolution session must be scheduled within 15 days by the school district.
  • There is a 30 day resolution period before the trial can begin. There are exceptions to this rule.

What happens in the resolution session?

  • In the resolution session, attorneys are encouraged not to attend.
  • If a family brings their attorney, the district can also bring their attorney, however, if the parent does not bring an attorney, the district cannot bring their attorney.
  • This provides an incentive for the district admin to discuss concerns and solutions with the parents and resolve the issues together.

Is this process helpful?

  • The resolution process may be useful, and a resolution can potentially be reached.
  • However, cases are rarely settled at the resolution session.
  • Usually, the resolution session  is not helpful. families t

What happens in the next step, mediation?

  • Mediation is a voluntary process, but is heavily encouraged.
  • Mediation has the benefit of having mediators; typically administrative law judges (ALJs).
  • The benefit here is the mediator understands the law and has experience in helping the parties reach a settlement.

Problems with mediation:

  • In the case of a poor mediator, where the ALJ may be inexperienced  or otherwise unsuitable, a successful mediation may not occur.
  • Another option is to skip mediation and sit down directly with the school district and the attorneys in a settlement conference. This is beneficial when the relationship between the family and district is strong.
  • The bottom line is: mediation can be a waste of time without the right mediator.
  • Currently, about 60% of mediation is a waste of time; it is ineffective, inefficient, and provides an unnecessary expense for families.
  • Clients will be advised differently on how to approach mediation under different circumstances.

Benefits of mediation:

  • Mediation, in the right conditions, can lead to resolutions with more creativity — resolutions that would otherwise not be granted at hearing.

What about trials or hearings?

  • Around 94 percent of due process complaints do not go to hearing. They may be settled or dismissed.
  • It is important to note that clients and the district may not necessarily be opposed in the sense that they are both working to help the student succeed, but may disagree on how to do so.
  • Sometimes, when this decision goes to a judge who is unfamiliar with the student in question, the solution may be unsuitable.
  • Thus, it is important try and  settle each case, rather than go to hearing. Hearing is the last option.

This summary is part of our complete Beginner’s Guide to the Special Education Legal Process.


Michael Boll, father to a son with autism and CSNLG team member, talks with attorney Richard Isaacs about the choice to file a lawsuit.




This is a summary of the third edition of CSNLG’s podcast series “A Beginner’s Guide to the Special Education”. In this podcast, our host Michael Boll and lead attorney Richard Isaacs discuss how a family should find solutions to their child’s special educational needs. The podcast can be found here.

What happens when the district disagrees with your IEP?

  • Oftentimes, once we have all the outside assessments that we need, we present them in an IEP meeting, the district has its data, and it has offered what it feels is appropriate, there’s still a disagreement with the district.
  • To us, this is just the beginning of the conversation and there is nothing to worry about.
  • Districts typically do not take risks in IEPs – they simply offer a basic level of services. However, parents can push harder for a better program.
  • This may be in the form of filing a due process complaint. This approach provides several opportunities to reach a resolution including a resolution meeting and mediation.  
  • Oftentimes we can get an appropriate program funded by the district, but it will be outside the IEP process.

FAPE and ‘basic floor of opportunity’

  • FAPE: the district’s obligation to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education.
    • “Appropriate” is what’s meaningful to each particular student in light of their own potential.
  • The district’s obligation is merely to provide  a ‘basic floor of opportunity’.
    • Our job is to get the district to provide much more than that basic floor of opportunity and get a much higher level of services.

Finding the Appropriate Placement

  • Oftentimes, districts never actually close the learning gap of students with special needs. Generic RSP (resource specialist program), SAI (Specialized Academic Instruction), or SDC (special day class) programs have limited outcomes at best.
    • For example, a student may be struggling academically so the district puts that  student in a special day class in fourth grade. For the next four or five years, they remain in the special day class and by the time they enter high school, the student is off diploma track
    • Conversely, we have had students graduate high school reading at a second/third grade level. After pushing for intensive intervention, we have gotten them beyond the 12th grade reading level after about six months.
  • Finding the appropriate solution is about identifying the specific programs (as suggested by outside assessments), and then pushing the district to provide them.
    • Often this is will happen outside the IEP, through a settlement agreement.

Do parents really need an attorney?

  • A good advocates can handle most cases  all the way up to the beginning of litigation.
  • Advocates are also typically less expensive than attorneys. However, advocate fees are not statutorily recoverable whereas legal fees often are. This means it may be cheaper to use an attorney throughout the whole process.
  • At IEP meetings, advocates shine because they often have a higher level of expertise – they know the resources of the school district better, know how to read and present assessments, and talk about goals.
  • The problem particularly with parents who go at it alone: the district will direct you towards outside assessors that they work with a lot, which often renders the recommendations meaningless and unusable.
  • Advocates or an attorney will direct the family to experts that can identify what’s going on with the student.
  • At that point, if the district says no, parents may want to contact an advocate or attorney to help with the next steps.

This summary is part of our complete Beginner’s Guide to the Special Education Legal Process.

Michael Boll, father to a son with autism and CSNLG team member, talks with attorney Richard Isaacs about deciding on solutions for your child’s specific situation and then advocating for those solutions with the school district.

Michael Boll, father to a son with autism and CSNLG team member, talks with attorney Richard Isaacs about understanding your case through the file review process.