Thursday, October 06, 2005

Brian Schaffer vs.Montgomery County Schools

All teachers need to deal with creating modifications for their special needs students. Now the Supreme Court is reviewing a case that asks the question, "Who is responsible for the confirmation of the student's needs?" Basically, does the school need to prove that the modifications are in place and working? Or is it the responsibility of the parents to prove that the modifications are not working? The impact of the decision would be huge if the Court ruled in favor of the parents. This would create a massive about work for teachers to provide evidence that all modifications are in place. In three of my classes, IEP's cover over half the class.
Here's the article courtesy of the San Jose Mercury News:

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Wednesday questioned whether school districts should have to carry the burden of proof when parents demand better programs for children with special education needs.

The court delved into the case of a Maryland family that undertook an administrative challenge to the school district's special education program designed for their son with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"I have never seen a case where a private party coming in and challenging government action does not have the burden of proof," Justice David Souter told the family's lawyer.

Arguing for the parents of Brian Schaffer, lawyer William Hurd said federal law sets up "a unique partnership" between parents of the learning disabled and school districts. When there are disagreements, school districts have better access to relevant facts and witnesses and the playing field is tilted against parents.

The Individuals With Disabilities Act is silent on whether parents or the schools have the burden of proof in disputes.

In baseball, the tie goes to the runner, said Hurd, and "here the tie should go to the child."

Under the law, which served 6.7 million students in the 2003-04 school year, Congress provides money to the states to ensure that all children with disabilities have a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and services to meet their needs.

Switching its stand from the Clinton years, the solicitor general's office of the Justice Department is siding with school systems, saying the law does not put the burden on schools.

Souter indicated he would be more sympathetic to an extreme set of circumstances in which the school district decided to throw the student with special needs "in the pot with everybody else." In the Maryland case, Souter pointed out, the parents have been presented with a proposed program by the school district.

Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that disputes under the law are no different from other types of cases in which parties seeking relief have the burden of proof.

Scalia looked at the costs of protracted disputes, saying "this is not play money."

Hurd urged Scalia to look at the "squandering of human potential" if special ed programs are not appropriately designed.

The cost figure for disputes quoted during arguments before the justices was $146.5 million, "a drop in the bucket" compared with the $11.4 billion appropriated for the program, said Hurd.

Chief Justice John Roberts is not participating in the case. Four lawyers from his old law firm are representing the school district.


In my opinion, I can't see how the court will rule for the parents. Justice Souter's point about "burden of proof" is a serious problem for their arguements.
I'll get you up to date.
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