Thursday, November 17, 2005

Brian Schaffer vs. Montgomery County Schools- The Verdict

In the continuing effort to keep my loyal audience up to date on the pertinent Supreme Court rulings, I give you the verdict of Schaffer vs. Montgomery County Schools, a case having to deal with Special Education and the concept of "burden of proof". Basically, the question that was being asked was "does the school need to prove that the modifications of an IEP are in place and working? Or is it the responsibility of the parents to prove that the modifications established in an IEP have not been implemented"? For better detail on the case, check out my 10/06/05 post on the beginning of this case.

As I expected, the Court ruled in favor of the Montgomery County Schools, 6-2. Sandra Day O'Connor made the simple explanation that "We hold that the burden lies, as it typically does, on the party seeking relief." Delving deeper into the case, O'Connor gives a very nice explanation of education based federalism, IEP's, and the need for the establishment of successful parent-educator relationships for IEP's to be successful. The importance of "the core statute...the the cooperative process it establishes between parents and the schools." The Court then explained the rights of parents, which most of us are well aware of (if you aren't, you are endangering yourself), and the responsibility of the school district in implementing an IEP. It would also seem that the Supreme Court has a very good handle on the stress that Special Education causes schools districts, especially financially. O'Connor mentions that if the burden were to lie with the school districts, then the education system would need to be appropriately funded for such an implementation. Further, she states that "moreover, there is reason to believe that a great deal is already spent on the administration of...IEP's", and she mentioned Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, which mentions, "parents and schools should be given expanded opportunities to resolve their disagreements in positive and constructive ways," and that "teachers, schools, local educational agencies, and States should be relieved of irrelevant and unnecessary paperwork burdens that don't lead to improved educational outcomes."

This could be considered a landmark ruling that will give a little breathing room to school districts. Special Education is such a nightmare to deal with in terms of the legality and liability, that teachers should probably be paid more than General Ed teachers because of the pressure that is put against them by the legal effect of IEP's. And while schools can breath that sigh of relief, they should get too comfortable. While Justice O'Connor made it known that she understands the pressure of the IEP, she also made plenty of references that if the burden of proof is shown in a case like this, it usually means that fraud is involved. Seems like the message was "Education needs room to work right, but not fulfilling the obligations of an IEP means that you are defrauding the parents of the child." An IEP is, after all, a legal document.

Congrats to all the Special Education teachers out there. You get a moments peace tonight :)
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