Monday, July 2, 2012

Three Stories: African Americans in Due Process Hearings

Special Education Due Process Hearings

Students identified by a school psychologist as disabled are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) according to the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA).  In addition to regular or general education, FAPE typically includes special education support services identified through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and respective goals. An IEP team creates educational goals and monitoring mechanisms that are, at least, reviewed annually.

     Of course, parent and school collaboration should be sought first to ensure a students’ receipt of FAPE, but when it is questionable and negotiations and collaboration seem to fail or fall short, parents (and school districts) can seek balance with a due process hearing.  A complaint is filed with the Office of Dispute Resolution (ODR) following which a hearing officer is assigned to the case who will hear the matter as presented by plaintiff and defendant’s attorneys.

     The hearing officer will decide whether a child has received FAPE or decide other issues before setting out an Order outlining actions to be taken by all parties to remedy the situation. The child’s best interest is at the core of the decision.

S. H.’s Story
S. H. never saw herself as a disabled student needing the “special education.” A Lower Merion school psychologist said she did after an education evaluated. Diagnosed with a specific learning disability, her mom was told she needed specially designed instruction and a special education. Trusting the school psychologist as the expert, like so many parents do, Mom ignored S. H.’s cries that she was not disabled or needing special education.

After the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia took this case to a due process hearing, an independent evaluation revealed that S. H. in fact never had a learning disability.  S. H. was exited out of special education two years ago. The District stands by its diagnosis and continues to challenge S. H. in court.

S. H. will enter a four-year university in September with fear and trepidation set off by spending hundreds of hours seeking an appropriate education in the resource room and low-level, modified academic courses.  However, all bets are on S. H. that her wisdom as a child will serve her well as a college student.

R. C.’s Story
He wants to be a professional football player when he grows up, settling for long-boarding now. His parents insist on designing an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to prepare him to succeed in a NCAA Division I, II or III university.

R. C. did not receive a Free Appropriate Public Education while attending Welsh Valley Middle School, according to the hearing officer who decided in his favor after hearing days of evidence put forth by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and District attorneys. The lawsuit unearthed some of what is wrong with LMSD special education.

School administrators typically substitute social studies, science and language courses for special education ones. While awaiting the federal Court’s decision on the Districts’ appeal, R. C. is setting a precedent at the middle school by attending all core content courses, including a language course. He is recovering from a lack of FAPE.

A. G.’s Story
A. G. is a beautiful and bright young adult who like S. H. was misdiagnosed as disabled by a Lower Merion school psychologist, according to outside expert evaluators.  In A. G.’s case, the school psychologist diagnosed her as having a specific learning disability and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder “like” symptoms. In her senior year and as a result of a due process hearing, A. G. learned more than she ever knew about why she was placed in instructional support lab classes. Her parents learned of her ADHD diagnosis for the first time at the hearing and were immediately alarmed and concerned that school staff were aware for years and treated A. G. with low expectations and as disabled.
Due to graduate as a senior, A. G. had little time to compensate for a lack of rigorous or honor-level courses that would have adequately prepared her to succeed post secondarily. While she continues to consider career options her case is on-going in federal court.