Special Education/DUE PROCESS


You are a very nice person but it almost seems like you're saying never go to due process without a lawyer, even if you cannot afford one and even then, never go to due process. The problem there is that school districts don't change. What if a child does make progress at home and didn't at school? Doesn't that demonstrate SOMETHING? I feel like my child is not just making progress, he is regressing. He is very unhappy. They offer alot of support but it's their program, not tailored for him. If I lose two weeks of my life to make a point, I will survive it. Even if I lose which is probable. I am asking you not to tell parents they may change things for the worst for other parents or wreck their relationship with the school. The school should not fail children and be adamant about not adjusting it's program. I realize it's only one place but in N.Y.C. parents have won reimbursement for private therapists AND Homeschooling and recently someone in Pennsylvania prevailed on the latter. I guess I am hoping however delusionally that some common sense will prevail, that a child should be where their needs are met and that a parent CAN be an expert in their kids by being the therapist. I wish this was respected. I would always respect an involved parent over an expert any day of the week especially if the expert has been with the child only briefly. I know you have great intentions and you are providing an amazing service but I do think you may not realize how discouraging you are, and I know you feel you are just making others aware of the tremendous stress and pitfalls. But I don't think my stress levels could get worse. I feel I have little to lose at this point.

Hi Lisa, I appreciate the opportunity to have this dialogue and clarify my opinion. Since special education due process hearings award attorney's fees and other costs to the prevailing party, I encourage strongly parents at least do a consultation with one before trying to navigate a hearing pro se, without an attorney. In your state, there are some excellent special education attorneys. Many will consult with you for free or a very low cost. You're right, I almost always ask parents to at least consult with a specialized special education attorney before filing a request for a due process hearing.  This is because of my many experiences in hearings.  Even my clients/parents who are attorneys hire attorneys who are experts in special education to assist in the hearings.  The school districts spend a lot of money and resources and hire attorneys who are very proficient in representing the school district.  

I truly do not mean to discourage you or any other parent. I understand the importance of a parent's right to a hearing. In many cases, it is the only way that a parent can stop a team's decision, or prevail on an issue. It is an absolute right for a parent to contest any part of the IDEA in a due process hearing.  It is vital that parents are fully prepared for all they are about to encounter.  That is why I shared my experiences with you.

It's not a simple matter of your homeschooling program vs. the district program, or a simple question of where your child makes more progress--the hearing is focused on whether the child was provided with FAPE--including all the components I shared with you, and probably more from an attorney perspective. You will have the burden to prove with evidence and testimony that FAPE was denied, your child did not make progress and won't make progress under the IEP, that he regressed, that his well being is at stake by sending him to the program and the placement or methods are inappropriate to the extent that FAPE was denied.  If you prevail in proving these issues, then the judge or hearing officer decides what 'remedy' the child should receive.  I hope I am being clear--in cases where parents are asking for reimbursement or compensatory education for a unilateral placement, the issue is whether the district provided FAPE and developed the IEP and provided placement appropriately.  Then, if that is proven, the judge or hearing officer turns to the question of what remedy to award to the prevailing party. A child can be doing very well in a private placement or homeschooling, but that becomes relevant only if the judge or hearing officer agrees that FAPE was denied.  

Of course in real life, you are your child's expert. But what I was trying to say is that most parents will not qualify as an expert in court, unless the parent holds a relevant degree and has the relevant experience to testify both as an expert and as the parent. I am aware that parents have prevailed and won remedies from compensatory education to reimbursement for private placement, to any other number of remedies. I was only trying to help you anticipate some effects I have seen many families experience, which they did not anticipate.

It's true that a poor decision affects other children. Winning decisions for parents also affect other children. It is the case that a hearing can -not will-affect the relationship between school and parent. I'm sorry my answer was upsetting to you, but I do think these are accurate statements. I did not mean to do that, for sure.  In my experience, families contemplating a hearing think it's helpful to anticipate all facets of a hearing and the process afterward. Imagine if I did not share the possible pitfalls with you --a parent might get upset about that too. Not many parents need preparation to win :)

If you lose the hearing and the hearing officer or judge rules in favor of the district, that decision will likely say the current IEP and placement are appropriate for the years you are contesting. Then, since the district uses this current IEP to craft the next IEP, the district may be more resistant to making the changes you are requesting. It's just something to be aware of.  The district may believe it will prevail again, and the process can continue with another hearing for that IEP. I'm not saying these are reasons not to go to a hearing, but I am saying there are implications of both losing and winning the hearing. The district has an endless supply of resources, if it chooses to use them. That is why I'm interested in sharing my experience, so parents like you will have the BEST chance to prevail. After all, parents in our area lose the vast majority of hearings. Most families I've testified for are pretty shocked at how the hearings go, whose testimony is strongly considered a , whose opinions are dismissed by the judge, and how the decisions are issued.

I take your feedback seriously and will be careful to be balanced. I hope I've been able to share my perspective in a way that was not discouraging to you. Thanks again for your follow up!  I wish you all the BEST in the hearing, or in whatever forum you advocate for your child!  

Special Education

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Michelle R. Davis, M. Ed.


I can answer questions about disability definitions and criteria for services, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004, No Child Left Behind, 504 plans, how to craft an IEP that drives the appropriate services, school placement, dispute options, and least restrictive environment. I worked in the public school system as a special educator and am now in private consulting practice where we assist parents as they navigate the special education process. I have expertise in all educational disabilities except blind/visual impairments and deaf/hard of hearing. This includes ADHD and other health impairments, medical conditions, dyslexia and learning disabilities, Autism, emotional disabilities, language processing problems, and interfering behaviors.


10 years as special educator and administrator in public school system; Director of ABCs for Life Success since 1998; Expert services such as analysis and testimony; Author: Special Needs Advocacy Resource Book: What you can do now to advocate for your exceptional child's education; Special Needs Advocacy Training Institute; internet radio show Teach Your Children Well: Hot Topics in Education; author School Success for Kids with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders released March 2010 (Prufrock Press).

Masters in Special Education with Emphasis on Inclusive Education (Johns Hopkins University); B.S.in Special Education (James Madison University); Conduct training for Universities, public and private schools, parent groups. Adjunct professor current George Washington University and prior George Mason University.

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