Special Ed law can be frustrating….

It must be frustrating for educators to see their papers graded, so to speak, by lawyers.  We have a system whereby disputes between parents and educators over how a child is served are decided by lawyers wielding the blunt instrument of the law.  The process is lawyer-friendly, full of special procedures and jargon and complexity based on lengthy and obscure federal regulations. I’ve often thought the system would be better if due process hearings were more like those in Judge Judy’s court, with a fair-minded educator deciding the case quickly.

It must be particularly frustrating for educators when the people who decide the cases use the law improperly.  In a case from Ohio, the first level hearing officer ruled in favor of the school district, holding that it provided the student with a FAPE.  Ohio has a two-level system, and so the parent  appealed to the SLRO (State Level Review Officer) who completely overturned the decision and ruled in favor of the parents.  Then it went to federal court. 

The court held that the district provided FAPE and in the process ripped apart the decision of the SLRO.  The court noted that the SLRO did not display the “requisite expertise” to serve as a hearing officer, and thus gave the SLRO’s opinion no deference.  The court noted that the SLRO quoted language from a brief filed by a parent advocacy organization and attributed it to the Supreme Court:

Whether the error occurred by an act of intentional bad faith or extreme incompetence, the effect is not a mere citation error. The SLRO’s mistake places the words of an advocacy group in the mouth of the Supreme Court and then applies them to the facts of this case.

Sometime in the future we may report on the substance of this case.  It involved the LRE requirement, and the court held that the SLRO got that all wrong.  But today, just a reminder of how important it is for our hearing officers to be properly prepared and trained.  There is a big difference between the words in a brief filed with the court and the words in the court’s ruling.   Getting them mixed up is what the court describes as either “intentional bad faith or extreme incompetence.” 

We have a good group of special education hearing officers in Texas.  I don’t think any of them would make a mistake like the one that happened in C.K. v. Board of Education of Sylvania City School District, which was decided by the federal court for the Northern District of  Ohio on February 9, 2021. We found it on Special Ed Connection at 78 IDELR 65 (N.D. Ohio 2021).


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