Special Education Law – The Benefits of a Due Process Hearing

One of the key procedural safeguards provided to parents and student with special needs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA) is that of the due process hearing. Codified under the Code of Federal Regulations §300.507-514, the Due Process Hearing is the chief legal procedural hearing where you can present evidence to prove your case before an impartial hearing officer. Whereas filing a State Complaint hands your case directly over to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), who conducts its own investigation and releases its findings on its own judgment, a due process hearing allows parents control over the process of evaluating and modifying an aspect of a child’s special education services that is in dispute. Some of those key benefits to parents and kids will be reviewed here.

What is most useful about a due process hearing is it privileges resolving the situation first and foremost, even over the occurrence of the proceedings. As a result, once a due process hearing is requested via a complaint, there is a 30-day “Resolution Process” under which you are given a chance to resolve the dispute to the satisfaction of both you and your child as well as the school district. This can be done typically in the form of a resolution meeting but may also be done via mediation, though this formal mediation may prolong the due process hearing timeframe which is supposed to last within 45 days. You are also allowed to opt out of this Resolution Process though it must be done in writing and by agreement of both you and the school district before the 15th day of the Resolution Process, by which you are required to have the meeting to try to resolve the issue in lieu of going before the due process officer. Taking advantage of this process is beneficial as it helps you reach an understanding with the school district without having to go through a formal hearing which may be intimidating due to its formal, legal nature where everything is left to the discretion of the impartial hearing officer. It helps you put the best interests of the child first and foremost.

If the case goes before the due process impartial hearing officer (who is selected by the ISBE), you are able to present evidence so long as it supports the allegations made in the initial complaint form submitted to the School superintendent who in turn, submits it to the ISBE. You cannot bring in new claims during the hearing after the initial complaint has been submitted. Once both you and the School district present evidence favoring your respective positions, the impartial hearing officer evaluates all of the evidence and renders a decision which is final. In the event that you find the decision not fair to you and your child’s interests and rights under the IDEA, you are allowed to appeal this decision to federal and/or state court in the form of a civil action. The IDEA requires that this administrative remedy be exhausted first before any civil litigation arising under the IDEA is filed. Yet the benefit of a Due Process hearing is that it allows appeals of decisions to begin with. An ISBE decision on a state complaint, however, is not appealable.

A Due Process hearing is required by the statute as a remedy prior to going to Court as it benefits the parents by allowing them to get a resolution through the state educational agency (such as the ISBE in Illinois) without having to pay extra for a likely costly round of litigation. Due Process hearings also benefit children through the “stay put” provision which allows children to maintain their current educational placement under their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) while the Due Process hearing is in session, foreclosing on any disruptions to the child’s education and learning patterns. Most importantly, unlike a State Complaint, where decision making and evidence gathering is in the full control of the ISBE, a Due Process hearing gives parents control over what evidence the ISBE-appointed impartial hearing officer considers, as they can submit as much evidence as possible supporting their positions and claims in their Complaint, allowing parents control over the potential outcome of the hearing officer’s decision.

While a Due Process hearing may not be ideal for every parent, it is nevertheless a requisite administrative remedy under the IDEA that must be completed before filing a civil action under the IDEA. Yet it does provide a remedy by which parents can present their grievances about how a school district is handling their child’s IEP or other aspect of their education without having to go through the costly process of court proceedings. It is also far from the only remedy available, as other remedies exist which may be even more congenial to parents needs in finding a solution to their disagreements with school districts on their child’s education that best suit both parties need and cause the least disruption to their child’s education. These other remedies will be covered in subsequent blog posts.