Search This Blog

Friday, August 13, 2021

Dispute Resolution in California

Carolyn Jones at EdSource:
The threatened deluge of post-pandemic special education litigation may be averted — or at least minimized— by a new initiative in California encouraging parents and schools to resolve disputes before heading to court.

The state budget, signed Friday by Gov. Gavin Newsom, sets aside $100 million for resolving special education conflicts between parents and school districts, which escalated during remote learning.

The money will go toward outreach, such as brochures, meetings and presentations, to help parents and school staff understand the rights outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal law that requires districts to educate students of all abilities. The goal is to improve communication and build trust between parents and schools, so conflicts can be resolved quickly and more easily.

None of the money can go to attorney fees.

But some say the state’s promotion of out-of-court dispute resolution favors districts, not parents. Without hiring lawyers or professional advocates, parents might be at a disadvantage when negotiating with districts over the services they believe their children need. Lower-income parents are especially vulnerable because the only way they can get reimbursed for attorney fees, which can cost upwards of $400 an hour, is by going to court, said Jim Peters, a Newport Beach advocate who helps parents in special education disputes.

“I support the idea in general of alternative dispute resolution, but in this case it’s disingenuous,” said Peters, who helped organize a class-action special education lawsuit against the state last year. “The money won’t be given out based on a child’s needs, it’ll be given out based on which parents can afford to hire attorneys.”