In some cases, the parents and the school will disagree as what special education services should be provided for a child in order to give him or her a free and appropriate public education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides for different ways to resolve disputes about special education issues between parents and schools. As a parent, you have the right to request a due process hearing, which is a hearing in front of an impartial hearing officer. At the hearing, both the parents and the school have the opportunity to present their sides of the dispute. The hearing officer hears all of the evidence from both sides, and then makes a decision to resolve the dispute, which is the purpose of the due process hearing.
The most important keys to being prepared for a due process hearing is organization and documentation. Throughout your dealings with the school about your child’s special education needs, you must keep copies of all paperwork that is produced by you or the school. This gives the hearing officer a “paper trail” to follow as he or she reviews your dispute. Paperwork also acts as important evidence in a due process hearing; for instance, if the school says that you didn’t ask for a particular accommodation for your child, but you wrote a letter to the school asking for that accommodation, you can show the hearing officer proof of your letter. In this sense, paperwork relating to your case can make your side of the story more believable.
Next, it is equally important to present your side of the case in an organized, logical, focused manner. Due process hearings tend to be very emotional, especially for parents who are simply trying to get the best education for their child. However, it is much more effective to focus on the facts and evidence that best supports your case; you must tell your child’s story in a way that will persuade the hearing officer that your child needs the particular service or accommodation that you have requested the school to provide.
It is always best to start at the beginning of your child’s journey through the world of special education, and then logically present the evidence in support of your side of the story. In telling your story, you must explain what your child needs, why your child needs it, what the school did or didn’t do to provide it, and what you want the school to do now. You also should be as specific as possible; it is not enough to simply tell the hearing officer that the school denied your child a free and appropriate public education. Rather, you have to tell the hearing officer exactly what the school did – or didn’t do – that resulted in a violation of the IDEA.
You may also want to enlist any helpful experts you have for your child to testify at the hearing. For instance, if your child’s psychologist recommends that certain services be provided for him or her, the psychologist will be in the best position to explain the content of the recommendation, as well as the reasons for the recommendation. Plus, using the testimony of an expert witness as evidence in support of your position will help your requests seem more reasonable and believable.