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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

IDEA Fairness Restoration Act -- Autism Society Alert

A message from the Autism Society


On Wednesday, May 4, 2011, please contact your senators and representatives and ask them to cosponsor the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act (S.613 AND H.R. 1208). This bill will allow parents to recover expert witness fees when they prevail in due process hearings and court actions under the IDEA.

IDEA gives parents the right to an impartial due process hearing, but parents must be able to afford expert witnesses to testify at those hearings. Expert witnesses can include psychologists; physicians; speech, occupational, physical, and other therapists; educational experts; positive behavioral support experts, and others. Without expert witnesses, most parents cannot prevail. Sometimes, school districts sue parents and parents must have expert witnesses to adequately defend themselves.

The IDEA Fairness Restoration Act will restore the right to recover expert witness fees for parents and students with disabilities. Congress intended that parents have this right when it amended the IDEA in 1986. But in 2006, the Supreme Court acted contrary to this intent and held that parents could not recover expert witness fees in Arlington Central School District v. Murphy. Plaintiffs in other civil rights cases, like ADA cases, recover fees. This bill would simply give parents the same right.

ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 4, 2011, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR SENATOR AND REPRESENTATIVE AND ASK THEM TO COSPONSOR S.613 and H.R. 1208. It is crucial that Congress hear from parents of children with disabilities, advocates, attorneys, family, friends, and colleagues that this legislation is very important. If you cannot do this on May 4, please do it the week of May 2-6, 2011.

Please share this email with others.

HOW TO CONTACT CONGRESS: It is best to call your Representative and Senators. Calls are more personal and receive more attention. Even a 2 minute call is very helpful. But if you need to email because of work schedule, disability, or other reason, please do so.

CALL CONGRESS: Call your Representative and Senators and ask them to Cosponsor S.613 and H.R. 1208, the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act. You can call 202-224-3121 (TTY 202-225-1904). If you do not know who your representatives are, you can look them up at or Ask for the staff member who handles education or disability. Share with them the information below:

SEND AN EMAIL MESSAGE TO CONGRESS: You can email your representatives through their special forms on the House of Representatives website,, and write your Senators through their Web form on the Senate website,

SAMPLE EMAIL / INFORMATION TO SHARE IN YOUR CALL: Here is information you can share with Congress. You can use it for your phone call, or you can cut and paste it into an email form. If you email, it helps to personalize it with even a few sentences about your child or your legal/advocacy practice. You might add something like “We are the parents of a child with autism and it is important to us that you support this bill, so we can afford due process if we are ever forced to go.” Or write something longer and more personalized.

    Dear Congressman/Senator,

    Please cosponsor the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act H.R. 1208 and S.613. It will restore Congress' original intent in enacting the Handicapped Children's Protection Act of 1986 that parents who prevail in administrative hearings and court actions be allowed to recover expert witness fees. The bill would overturn the Supreme Court decision in Arlington Central School District v. Murphy (2006).

    When school districts provide an education so poor that they fail their legal obligations, parents can seek an impartial due process hearing to protect their child. In those hearings parents must provide testimony from such expert witnesses as psychologists, doctors, therapists, and educational experts. This testimony is needed to prove that a free appropriate public education was not provided to their children. Few parents can afford expert witnesses. Nearly 36% of children with disabilities live in families earning less than $25,000 a year; over two-thirds in families earn less than $50,000 a year. Without the ability to afford expert witnesses, the right to a due process hearing is not meaningful for most parents.

    The bill simply gives parents the same right as prevailing plaintiffs under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other similar laws to recover expert fees. When Congress passed the Handicapped Children's Protection Act of 1986, it intended that parents would recover expert witness fees in IDEA cases, as clearly stated in the Conference Report. But the Murphy case overrode that intent. We ask Congress to restore its original intent and provide parents with the right to recover expert witness fees if they win their case.

    Sincerely yours,
    Your name here

More Resources:

The Senate bill, (S.613) is here:
The House bill (H.R. 1208) is here:
For more information about this alert, please contact Jeff Sell at


Jeff Sell signature

Jeff Sell
Vice President, Public Policy & General Counsel
Autism Society