The most important witnesses

I once heard a judge talking about her experience in family law disputes. This judge was in a large county in Texas where there was a court dedicated exclusively to these cases. So this judge had years of experience in divorce cases, custody battles, and all the other ugly stuff following in the wake of a marital breakup.

She said that the witness she listened to the closest was the classroom teacher.  “The teacher,” she explained, “has no ax to grind. The teacher is a neutral observer of the behavior of the child and both of the parents. The teacher’s testimony usually carries a lot of credibility.”

In special education cases, the classroom teacher is usually the most important witness, but it’s for a different reason.  In a custody fight, the teacher is not called on to give an opinion. The teacher just relays the facts.   In a special education due process hearing, the teacher is giving both facts AND expert opinion.  The teacher is the World’s Leading Expert on the particular child’s performance in school.  So if the legal issue is whether or not the student needs to receive special education services, the classroom teachers are critical witnesses.

In a case recently decided in Ohio, strong testimony from multiple teachers convinced the court that the school did not violate its child find responsibilities. The student had good grades in high level classes as a 9th grader, and teachers also testified that she was socially connected and appropriate in her behavior. The girl had been bullied and a private psychologist evaluated her as being on the autism spectrum.  The court noted that a duty to refer a child for testing arises only when there is a suspicion of disability, along with some indication of an educational need for special help. Here, there was no indication that the bullying or any signs of autism were adversely affecting the child in her school performance.  The case is  Dougall v. Copley-Fairlawn City School District BOE, 75 IDELR 271 (N.D. Ohio 2020).


Tomorrow:  a good illustration of the “unwritten rule.”