Tuesday, November 15, 2005

More U.S. Supreme Court EduNews

The Washington Post is reporting that a recent supreme court decision affecting the placement of special education students is being seen as an opportunity by the Washington, DC public school system to reduce its overall special education-related administrative costs:
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that leaves Montgomery County parents with the burden of proof when they dispute special education plans could prompt a shift in D.C. public schools, where educators now must prove that their programs are adequate.

A 6 to 2 decision in a case brought by a Potomac family essentially maintained the status quo for Virginia and Maryland schools. But administrators in the District say they will use the ruling to upend their policy, which has long sustained high special education costs, attributed mainly to the hearings and appeals that can result in students being placed in expensive private facilities outside the city.

D.C. school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz said she would welcome a chance to align board policy with the federal ruling.

"We have the highest number of court hearings in the country," she said. "This will help us pare down the amount of money spent on special education and allow us to use that money to give students a world-class education in the D.C. school system."

The system's costs for hearings and appeals has risen from $499,000 in fiscal 2001 to $2.9 million in fiscal 2005. A change in policy, said Erika Pierson, the school system's deputy general counsel, "will keep some attorneys from filing frivolous cases."

But many parents and advocates for the disabled said they feared children would suffer.

"For parents who are not educated, who are poor and have limited resources, this is really going to hurt," said Kim Y. Jones, executive director of Advocates for Justice and Education, an organization that supports parents in special education cases.

Jocelyn Schaffer, the Potomac woman who with her husband brought the case forward on behalf of their youngest son, Brian, said she was disheartened by the court's decision. "It makes me very sad," she said. "I don't think the difficulties parents face are fully appreciated by the court."

Schaffer v. Weast had been closely watched by education officials and special education advocates across the country. With more than 6.7 million students receiving special education services under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, its outcome could have significant implications for school systems across the nation.

Educators feared a decision in favor of the plaintiffs would lead to costly litigation that would siphon money away from classrooms. Advocates, however, maintained that it would force school systems to be more accountable for the services they offered special needs children.
There is much more to read in the whole piece.

I know that there are times when parents will push the boundaries of both reason and common sense in their efforts to secure the best education for their learning-disabled child. Certainly, I can understand their point-of-view. I just don't know if this SCOTUS opinion strikes the optimum balance between the needs of the child and that of the public education system as a whole.

Only time will tell.

Here in California, it's not at all uncommon for students with learning disabilities to be placed in private schools due to the fact that many of our more rural school districts are unable to provide appropriate instructional services as mandated by Federal Law. Some of these placements have annual costs that exceed $30,000 and are the result of settlements arising from the hearings process and court litigation.

See the text of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004
here. While regulations implementing the IDEA 2004 are being prepared, the regulations implementing the 1997 law remain in effect, to the extent that they are consistent with the IDEA 2004 statute.

From our Archives: Consider taking a look at our post from October which examined some of the issues surrounding
this potentially landmark case.
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