Because of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, parents of special needs children have several options available to them when they are in a dispute or disagreement with a local school district regarding the special education services their child is receiving.
One of those options is a Special Education Due Process Hearing.
A Due Process Hearing is intended to be an impartial procedure modeled after a civil court hearing, where both parties have the opportunity to have an attorney represent them or represent themselves as they state their case before an Impartial Hearing Officer (IHO).
These hearing are not designed or intended to resolve criminal issues, but instead will typically address complaints that parents might have about the way their children’s needs are being met by the school system.
A special education due process hearing will also be used to address a disagreement where the school system is disputing whether or not a child actually has a learning disability, or where they disagree with the medical claims of the child’s parents.
Once the allegations are made and the necessity for a hearing has already been established, there are seven steps involved with the actual hearing.
1. Plaintiff’s Opening Statement and Allegations
The plaintiff is typically the parents who are bringing allegations against their child’s school, although in some cases the school system will act as the plaintiff.
The first step of such a hearing will be for that party to present their allegations in the form of an opening statement, upon which they will also assume the burden of proof.
2. Opportunity For Both Parties To tate Their Cases
After the plaintiff’s opening statements, both parties will be afforded the opportunity to state their cases and present evidence that must be deemed adequate and admissible and must be accompanied by supporting documentation. Typically, these documents will be comprised of the student’s medical records or confidential educational files and information.
As a follow-up to opening statements, both parties will be afforded the opportunity to provide a brief to the Impartial Hearing Officer. These briefs will usually include relevant background information that would clarify or expound upon information in the opening statements.
Both parties will have the opportunity to present witnesses, which are often made up of a family members, teachers or doctors who might have familiarity with the child’s medical history. Witnesses can be subpoenaed by way of affidavit or deposition.
5. Cross Examination
Both parties are then given the chance to cross-examine any of the witnesses that have given testimony.
6. Decision from the IHO
Once each party has made their case, the Impartial Hearing Officer makes a decision based on existing laws and precedents, which is then handed down to both sides and formally marks the ends of the special education hearing process.
Both parties have the option to appeal the ruling if they are able to present reasonable evidence that proves the initial ruling was incorrect or made by way of incomplete information. Usually this will only be successful if additional evidence surfaces that can significantly affect the outcome of the case.