AASA Proposes IDEA Due Process Changes

From our friends at Learning Disabilities Association of America:

In anticipation of the next reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which was slated to occur in 2009, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) has begun to develop policy recommendations. AASA, the professional organization for local school superintendents and other senior school administrators, is issuing a series of reports, the first of which is Rethinking the Special Education Due Process System. The report states that changes in the current system could “greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the burdensome and often costly litigation that does not necessarily ensure measurable educational gains for special education students.” AASA offers a new model, which they hope will create dialogue on this important issue.

AASA contends the current IDEA monitoring system instituted after the 2004 reauthorization and accountability under No Child Left Behind Act, including disaggregation of subgroup data and penalties for lack of subgroup improvement, have made school districts “more compliant with IDEA and more focused on improving the academic outcomes of students with disabilities.” The report suggests this higher level of compliance makes the current system, which diverts financial and human resources from focusing on the mission of improving academic outcomes for students, ripe for re-examination.

AASA also states the system is “inequitable and unpopular.” The document cites a number of reports that address parent and school dissatisfaction with the system, as well as difficulties faced by low- and middle-income families in utilizing the system.

Of particular interest are the results of a survey of 200 randomly selected superintendents from a cross-section of school districts describing what, if any, challenges they face in addressing due process claims. Forty-six percent of respondents indicated they “acquiesce to requests by parents that were considered unreasonable or inconsistent with IDEA less than 10% of the time.” One-fifth of respondents indicated they agreed to parental requests 51 to 75 percent of the time. Respondents also were asked to characterize the stress experienced by school staff who were involved in the hearings and litigation. Ninety-five percent classified the stress as high or very high. In addition, the survey asked about financial costs associated with hearings and litigation.

AASA is proposing the following as a fix to the current dispute resolution system:

  • Add IEP facilitation to the list of options available to districts to resolve disputes with parents by authorizing districts to contract with a state-approved, trained IEP facilitator.
  • If a formal due process complaint is filed by a parent, either party could request mediation. The mediation would be conducted by a trained mediator with no lawyers or advocates present.
  • If mediation failed, the district and parents would jointly select a neutral independent special education consultant designated by the state to “review evidence of the child’s disability and advise the parties on how to devise a suitable compromise IEP.”
  • Within 21 days, the consultant would examine student evaluations, interview parents and school personnel, observe the student in school, examine the school’s services, and review the student’s academic performance. The consultant would then recommend an IEP for the student. The district and parent would be obligated to follow the consultant-designed IEP for a mutually agreed upon period of time.
  • If either party were dissatisfied with the consultant’s IEP after a period of implementation, that party could file a lawsuit. The consultant’s notes and model IEP would be included as part of the record in any litigation. If the parent wished to pursue compensatory education or reimbursement for expenses associated with obtaining private education in the absence of the school district’s provision of a free appropriate public education, the parent could do so in court only after having attempted to find agreement with the district through the facilitation and consultancy model.
  • The entire report is available at http://www.aasa.org/headlinecontent.aspx?id=27966&showcontent=1. There is a place to record comments, as well. LDA will be examining the report closely and monitoring this discussion.
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