Weighing the evidence….

Special education litigation is often decided based on the “weight” of the evidence.  Often the court is faced with evaluations from qualified professionals that reach different conclusions. What’s true for hearing officers and courts is equally true for ARD Committees. When faced with disagreements between qualified professionals, the ARD has to weigh the evaluation data. This requires an exploration of the foundation of each report. 

Here's a good example.  A private psychologist found that the student had an SLD and required special education, while the school’s FIIE showed that she did not.  The hearing officer noted that both evaluations were done by qualified professionals.  Which one had a stronger foundation?   Here is how the court compared the private psychological with the school’s:

In addition to reviewing Brooklyn’s records and input from Brooklyn’s parents, the [school psychologist] obtained input from Brooklyn’s third and fourth-grade teachers; observed Brooklyn in her virtual classroom on two occasions; and conducted cognitive and achievement testing.  In contrast, the [private psychologist] based her conclusions on one interview with Brooklyn, one interview with the Parent, a parent input form, and a review of Brooklyn’s academic records.  Moreover, the [private psychologist’s] report gives very little attention to the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the death of Brooklyn’s grandfather on her social and emotional well-being, whereas the [school psychologist] more extensively took those factors into account.

Furthermore, the testimony of two experienced teachers tipped the scales.  Key Quote:

Even if the conclusions and testimony of the two psychologists are given equal weight, the Hearing Officer correctly found that the testimony from Brooklyn’s teachers tips the scales in favor of the district.

Between them the two teachers had 35 years of experience in special education and both had taught the child for a full year. They both testified that she was making academic progress and did not demonstrate a need for special education. It’s Brooklyn S.M. v. Upper Darby School District, decided by the federal court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on March 3, 2023.  It’s cited as 82 IDELR 197.


Got a question or comment for the Dawg?  Let me hear from you at jwalsh@wabsa.com

Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!