There’s disagreements between families and school districts, and less than 1 percent of families request a due process hearing, and only 3 percent of them actually go to the hearing,” parent advocate Ann McDonald-Cacho said, citing CLA [California Legislative Analyst] statistics. “The numbers show that most families…don’t have the resources, they don’t know where to find a lawyer, they don’t know how they could possibly hire a lawyer in order to work out these disagreements,” McDonald-Cacho said.
McDonald-Cacho works at the Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund (DREDF), an organization founded to help families navigate the school system to get the education their children are entitled to.
The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit requested records showing the amount of money spent on outside attorneys from 2010 to May 2013 for the three Bay Area districts with the most special education cases: Oakland Unified, San Jose Unified and San Francisco Unified.
The reports show Oakland Unified spent more than $850,000, San Jose Unified spent more than $551,000 and San Francisco spent more than $440,000 on outside counsel to deal with special education lawsuits.
Compare that to the roughly $22,300 a year it costs to educate a special needs student. The districts could have provided services to 83 students in that time period.
Sunnyvale mom Nancy Agaiby is just beginning her journey, getting ready to enter a due process hearing with the Sunnyvale Unified School District. Her 6-year-old son Andrew was diagnosed with ADHD, but Agaiby said she has spent the past school year trying to reach an agreement with the district about an appropriate education plan for her son.
“They’re not fighting to save money, they’re fighting a 6-year-old,” Nancy told NBC Bay Area. “One of the staff (members) told me this is protocol, to get turned down over and over until finally they allow you in.”