Stop the Rule Changes for Special Education in Alabama
This petition had 2,208 supporters
We do understand and appreciate the State Department's desire to address some concerns pertaining to the due process complaint mechanism yet you are only listening to the complaints coming from special education directors and their attorneys. This is extremely one-sided and you did not meet with the parent attorneys nor the parent advocates that could have balanced out the "ghost stories" you've been told and provide valuable insight and recommendations on how to fix these issues equally and fairly. You have not done this and so we can not support or agree with these changes. They must be amended and our position and needs addressed, as well. The special education rules were made for parents and are primarily prohibitions for the schools (due to a solid history of neglect, low expectations, and low results). Your proposed rule changes are attempts to help schools when they are participants, if not the trigger, to why a due process complaint would be necessary to begin with. You should of done what you promised in April and meet with us and our parent attorneys to get a full understanding of the issues so we could council together and find a reasonable and productive solution to these perceived problems.
We, as parents of special education students, must be able to understand the dispute resolution process so that we can navigate it without the need to hire/retain an attorney. It is a unique addition to special education where we have been statutorily provided a mechanism to advocate for our children. If the State Department of Education changes the language and rules in such a way that it diminishes or weakens that right then it only opens the State of Alabama to additional and unnecessary expense in the form of litigation.
When consensus is not reached on an IEP team then it triggers any and all of the different mechanisms available. These options include: calling another IEP meeting, filing a State Complaint, requesting mediation, and/or making a due process complaint request. These are the options of last resort and the goal is to encourage school districts to work fairly with parents to achieve consensus. If the State Department of Education is making that process more difficult for parents to navigate and/or understand then they are also removing a critical compliance trigger, as well. A school district would be far less willing to work out their issues in an IEP meeting (where they should all be resolved) if they knew that some of the options of last resort (parent's dispute resolution options) had been diminished and weakened. The result would actually increase the number of disputes, as some schools would see opportunity in a weakened parent position and would be more inflexible in the very setting where they are mandated to show parents equal participation.
Why would the State Department of Education want a weaker parent position that could embolden some school districts that already have compliance issues, high litigious records, and can't even follow/respect the special education regulations as they currently exist?
The proposed changes that were released on Friday, October 2, 2015, place a huge burden on parents that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) simply does not require.
We, as parents, do not agree with the following:
1) Changes to the Independent Education Evaluation (IEE). It creates unnecessary ambiguity as to a parent's right to request an independent evaluation in each individual area that the District conducted an evaluation. We believe that the new way the State Department is wording this section will create unnecessary fights, rejections and/or litigation. The language proposed makes it unclear if a 'Functional Behavior Assessment' (FBA) would meet the new definitions or approved area for which an independent evaluation could be requested. We believe this proposed wording will actually cause more disputes and more litigation for which the schools will be exposed to higher costs.
2) Changing the Statute of Limitations to one (1) year instead of the two (2) that we currently have. This will actually increase litigation and place the schools under immense scrutiny on a yearly basis. We also believe that this is illegal and the State Department has no authority to alter the statute of limitations outside of legislative action to do so. We intend to challenge this immediately in the federal court.
3) Requiring parents to conduct a legal analysis when drafting a due process complaint (which parents won't be able to do and violates the intent of the IDEA). These requirements include:
"alleging a specific violation of the child’s entitlement to a free appropriate public education that occurred within the applicable timeline as prescribed in Section 13 (c), above; (2) contain a description of the nature of the disability and how the public agency’s proposal or refusal to initiate a change with respect to the child’s identification, evaluation, educational placement or provision of FAPE; (3) include a statement of facts supporting each and every allegation that the child was deprived or denied a FAPE."
The current rules only require the parents to explain the nature of the problems the child is having, including facts related to the problem. The new language raises the bar considerably on parents to a level they are not equipped nor intended to perform. This will force parents to hire attorneys in an area where they have been able to freely advocate for their own child.
We believe that this will deny or discourage parents the opportunity to fully participate in their dispute resolution rights. The schools would also be able to use their attorneys to file motions to dismiss the parent complaints for insufficiency in meeting the new requirements. A parent would be able to refile or would be forced to hire an attorney. We believe this will only increase costs that the school would have to absorb or be exposed to.
4) We believe that removing the State allowed options to enforce a Resolution Agreement via a State complaint, mediation request or in due process will only create more litigation and higher costs. By removing these options, this only leaves the state courts or federal courts to enforce a Resolution Agreement if we believe the school is not complying with the agreed upon terms.
We do not believe that this makes any sense to remove that availability and force both parties into state or federal court where expenses to the District will be far higher than they would if we were still able to utilize the administrative dispute resolution options.
Finally, we believe that the due process rule changes are aimed entirely at parents, as though it doesn't take two to tango.
If the State Department is intent on a stricter timeline and added parental requirements in filing, we ask that the State Department add a provision that requires the school to provide us our child's educational record and any personally identifiable materials within 15 days from the day a parent files a complaint. This is a common complaint from parents and creates a lot of the delays for which the State Department is wishing to punish us. The current document exchange rules only specify that the parties must exchange "all evidence" five (5) days before a hearing yet this is only evidence the school or parent wishes to put forward and not the entire education record. When a school possesses the records, for which we have a right to 'review and inspect', then it creates an opportunity for a school to delay, lose, withhold, falsify, and/or not provide those records that we, as parents, rely upon in a due process hearing.
We believe that fair is fair. If the State Department is intent on addressing some problems then they must consider our need to obtain our child's full educational record within 15 days from the complaint filing.
We do appreciate the State Department for the limited number of changes proposed comparative to what was being circulated in March of 2015.
REMINDER: IF YOU CONTACT ANY OF THE DECISION MAKERS BELOW WE URGE YOU TO DO SO WITH DIGNITY AND RESPECT.
Thomas R. Bice, Ed.D.
Secretary and Executive Officer
Phone: (334) 242-9700
Ella B. Bell
Phone: (334) 834-2811
Phone: (334) 272-2777
President Pro Tem
Phone: (205) 712-0011
Phone: (334) 794-8024
Yvette Richardson, Ed.D.
Phone: (205) 923-7262
Cynthia Sanders McCarty, Ph.D.
Phone: (256) 310-6048
Mary Scott Hunter
Phone: (888) 531-1312
Juliana Teixeira Dean, Associate General Counsel - firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Meyer, Associate General Counsel - email@example.com
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