In the state of Tennessee, the law recognizes that students with disabilities are unique; no one is the same. As a result, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is supposed to ensure that each student with a disability has support, assistance, and much more that best suit his or her needs; one-fits-all programs and policies regarding students with disabilities do not work. Nevertheless, IEP-related disputes among parents, school officials, and other individuals can and do arise, and when said disputes arise due process hearings follow IEP meetings.
Established by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, due process hearings are like courtroom trials, and like trials they do not begin and conclude overnight. Lawyers will represent the school district. Parents likewise should retain or hire a lawyer; otherwise, parents will face disadvantages in the hearing. Without experience in hearings and without knowing the rules of evidence and procedures, a parent is up against a trained attorney who will represent the school district zealously.
Due process hearings begin when a parent or guardian sends a written complaint or notice against the school and conclude when a neutral third party, called a hearing officer, makes a decision. Moreover, due process hearings only apply to disputes regarding disabled students’ special education rights; for example, parents can dispute how their children are evaluated, what services are needed, and/or where their children are placed at school.
Furthermore, IEP-related disputes often involve substantive problems or procedural problems. Substantive problems can concern whether a disabled student’s IEP provides the disabled student the proper support and/or assistance in his or her classes whereas procedural problems regard technical parts of the IEP process. For instance, a procedural problem could mean parents were excluded from their children’s IEP meetings or did not receive notification of their children’s IEP meetings.
Strict time limits apply to due process hearings. These time limits are extremely important, both legally and practically. Legally, a late filed request for a hearing will result in a dismissal. Practically, a student suffers the longer he or she misses necessary services or placement. After filing for a hearing, the parties still have an opportunity to settle the matter. If a settlement is unsuccessful, a hearing is held and a decision is announced later. If parents disagree with the hearing officer’s decision, they then may appeal to state or federal courts.
Remember: IEP-related due process hearings involve disabled students’ educational rights, not their religious rights or any other type of non-education-related rights. Also remember: Each part of the process has a time limit.
If you have more questions and/or concerns about IEPs, due process hearings, and related matters, talk to a lawyer. To learn more, to have your questions answered, and to have your concerns addressed, contact Nashville Education Attorney Perry A. Craft.