The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) released proposals the group said offer alternatives to the current, federally mandated process used by parents and school personnel to negotiate special-education services, including transportation.
“Rethinking the Special Education Due Process System,” which is based on a random survey of 200 superintendents from large and small districts in urban, suburban and rural areas across the nation, outlines steps that can be taken to resolve differences, such as when a school bus must be used to transport a student with disabilities. AASA said its report addresses problems with the current statute, as well as proposed improvements. The report is intended to spark “a thoughtful, new dialogue” about the need for ‘critical changes’ to the special education dispute resolution system.
STN learned that initial “chatter” among some national special-education experts included points of view that parent advocates will take a strong position against many of the proposed modifications.
The report indeed contends that modifications to the current due process system could greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the burdensome and often costly litigation, which AASA said does not necessarily ensure measureable educational gains for special education students. AASA’s proposal also “preserves the right for parents to move forward with litigation against a district and maintains other effective dispute resolution models that were put in place in the prior re-authorizations.”
“The due process system as it exists today is expensive, unwieldy and inequitable. It was designed to improve the academic outcomes for students with disabilities, but instead it causes deep divisions between schools and parents and often little else,” said Daniel Domenech, AASA executive director. “Now, we have the opportunity to begin a dialogue among all the people involved so that, as we approach the reauthorization of IDEA, we can craft a more effective negotiating tool to use when parents and school administrators disagree.”
Key recommendations include: The ability to use a state-approved, trained facilitator to help create an Individualized Education Plan (IEP); the use of a special-education consultant who can recommend an educational plan for the district to follow when agreement cannot be reached; and the ability of either party to file a lawsuit in federal court.
Representing about 13,000 superintendents and school administrators nationwide, AASA pointed out that Congress should have reauthorized IDEA in 2011, so only now are groups introducing potential legislative fixes.
Three-quarters of the survey respondents said they would support a new provision in the reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that permits parents and districts to request “an impartial, highly knowledgeable special education facilitator from the state education agency who would attend an IEP meeting and assist the parties in reaching agreement.” The proposal assumes that each state would cover the cost of the facilitator.
Another 49 percent also said their district had at least one due-process hearing or was involved in special-education litigation over the past five years, with nearly a quarter of those reporting that their district was involved in two to five cases. The survey also found that the average cost of settlements over the past five years has been nearly $24,000. Meanwhile, verdict costs have averaged nearly $16,000, and the cost of retaining outside counsel has cost an average of $10,500. Attorney fees for parents over the same period have averaged more that $19,200. School districts have also paid an average of $7,200 in insurance deductibles and more than $7,700 for the likes of Individual Education Evaluations, hearing officers and substitutes.
“Parents request the vast majority of due process hearings, but the school districts prevail in most cases,” Domenech added. “School districts across the country spend over $90 million per year in conflict resolution. The process devours time that could better be spent educating the child and creates an adversarial relationship between parent and school. We have to do better — for the students’ sake.”