I have been out of the loop so to speak for the past month or more because my lengthy representatiuon of a student with Down’s Syndrome at a due process hearing. To make it brief, this student is now in 2nd grade. In May 2013, I attended two IEP meetings that probably lasted about nine hours. The student had been placed in a SDD-1 class for reading, writing and math and spent the remainder of the day in regular education classes and noninstructional time wth peers at the beginning and end of the school day in lunch and recess. The school sysem proposed to change the student’s school and special education programming to a self-contained MID program, and more time in special education. The parent objected to this placement and we went to due process.
Five days of due process later, we are waiting for a decision from the administrative law judge. What was the hearing about? To determine the least restrictrive environment for the student. For the parents, the self-contained MID program was too restrictive and decreased their child’s time with nondisabled peers. The fuss or fight really boiled down to how many hours a day should this child spend in regular education versus special education. The school system’s perpective is that this child could benefit more by placement with disabled peers for reading, writing and math. The school system really was not interested in the benefits of mainstreaming for students with Down’s Syndrome and how language, academics and behavior can actually improve by placement with peers. Sadly, the school system almost by force of will pushed this proposed placement on the parents who stood their ground and did not cave to the pressure of the district.
As an attorney, special educatrion due process hearings are quite complex and time-consumming. There is no short cut to prevail . . . it takes an enormeous amount of work and research as well as preparation. School systems will throw the kitchen sink at you and more. Without adequate preparation and a good expert witnesses, parents are distinctly at a disadvantage at a due process hearing. Just check the due process decisions issued within the last five or six years and you will find that parents infrequently prevail at due process hearings. Why? There are perhaps many reasons that are too lenghy to explore in this post. Suffice it to say that if you are a parent and request due process, you better be ready for a hard and financially draining fight. This is not to overlook that many due process hearings requests are resolved prior to the hearing in mediation or at a resolution session. They are. But if the school system digs in its heels and fights, then you better get yourself a very experienced special education attorney who has been through the trenches of a due process hearing.
I do not know yet whether the parents will prevail. All I know is that I put my heart and soul in this case and hope for the best. It changed my perspective on due process hearings and whether they are worth the fight for parents. As most things, it depends upon the parents and whether they can afford the fight and endure the hardship of the process.