Where experts go wrong….

Yesterday we told you about the Pennsylvania case in which a district convinced the hearing officer and the court that moving a student to a more restrictive environment was a good idea.  The parent’s lawyer offered the testimony of two expert witnesses, but the court gave them little credence.  Here’s why:  

First, the decision noted that Dr. Harty “presumed that full inclusion is appropriate for every child regardless of unique individual need.”  Second, the decision noted that Dr. Harty’s conclusions about J.W.’s reading abilities were based on a single assessment conducted over a two-hour period…..Third, the decision noted that Dr. Harty did not adequately explain why her assessment of J.W.’s reading ability differed so significantly from the vast amount of evidence suggesting that J.W.’s reading ability was below benchmarks for his age and grade level.  

The law favors serving students in the mainstream setting, but above all other considerations the law requires an individual analysis of each student’s proper placement.  The court noted that “Dr. Harty’s opinion was afforded less weight because it had insufficiently considered J.W.’s individual needs…”

The other expert testified about assistive technology needs.  The man knew the field, but not the student:

The decision acknowledged that Lytton [the A.T. expert witness] had expertise in the field of assistive technology, but found that his opinion should be afforded less weight because he did not interview J.W.’s educator or observe J.W. in the classroom.

Educators should keep these factors in mind when parents bring experts to ARD meetings or present evaluations with recommendations for the child’s education.  Having credentials and experience is good, but not enough. How well does the expert know this student?  The leader of the ARD meeting should be prepared to engage in mild cross-examination.  How much time have you spent with the student? Have you talked to the teachers who are currently working with the student?  Have you observed the student in the school setting?  Are you familiar with the current IEP? The progress reports?

If it ends up in court your lawyer is going to ask all those questions.  You can do the same at the ARD meeting. 

The case is Wishard v. Waynesboro Area School District, decided by the federal court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on August 21, 2020.     We found it on Special Ed Connection at 77 IDELR 65.


Tomorrow: A bill to watch….