In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and laws that affect students with disabilities, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. School districts prevail in most due-process hearings. Here are some reasons:
School districts have built-in expert witnesses in the form of teachers and staff. They also have full access to all relevant information about a proposed placement, and often deny parents access to those programs in advance of hearings. When parents’ experts can observe children in class, districts can limit their observations. More important, parents have to foot the bill for their experts because of a 2006 Supreme Court decision that IDEA does not authorize reimbursement of witness fees. “While authorizing the award of reasonable attorney's fees, the Act contains detailed provisions that are designed to ensure that such awards are indeed reasonable,” Justice Alito wrote for the majority. “The absence of any comparable provisions relating to expert fees strongly suggests that recovery of expert fees is not authorized.” It goes without saying that this decision disadvantages all parents, and especially those with modest incomes.
Alexa Newman received special education services from Alden-Conger Public Schools since kindergarten. Legally, through a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, students with disabilities are eligible to continue receiving a free public education until they are 21 years old.
Parents Amy and Kory Newman filed a special education state complaint with the Minnesota Department of Education in May alleging the district violated IDEA and at times did not meet Alexa Newman’s individualized education program.
“It’s just unfortunate that you trust somebody … that they’re doing what’s best for your daughter and here to find out it’s like OK, they’re just going through the motions,” Kory Newman said.
Kory Newman said he took full responsibility for not being engaged in his daughter’s IEP from the time she was in kindergarten all the way through her education.
“We didn’t know better,” Amy Newman said.
That has changed.
“I know more about special education now than I ever thought I would,” Kory Newman said. “I sat up at night reading.”
Amy Newman wondered how many children should have received services past 18 through SMEC and did not because their parents did not fight.
She said the couple is not filing a lawsuit. They have two younger children in the district. Now, they are looking ahead and behind at other families with students in special education. She said she wants other children to get what the law says they are entitled to: special education through age 21.
“We shouldn’t have had to fight this hard,” Amy Newman said. “… In our minds, too many have graduated, gotten their signed diploma and missed out on the opportunities.”