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Supremes: Parents Must Bear Cost of Proving Education Discrimination

The Supreme Court ruled on Nov. 14 "that the nation's school systems are not legally obliged to prove the adequacy of individualized educational programs set up for disabled children."

The 6-2 ruling came today in the case of Schaffer v. Weast. It was another of those disability rights decisions in which the ruling rested on money. The Washington Post reported that "was a major blow to parents' advocacy organizations, which argued that most families are not financially able to bear the burden of persuasion when going up against a board of education or a school superintendent. School officials across the country similarly contended that their resources would be drained by having to meet each challenge with a showing of adequacy."

"Until now, there has been impetus for both sides to really mediate and work things out," Wendy Byrnes, a parent advocate at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund told the New York Times. "This decision tips the scale in the district's favor, so that a school district will not be so motivated to work something out."

Sure enough. The Washington Post is now reporting that the local school district will now "upend" their policy:

D.C. school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz told reporters, "We have the highest number of court hearings in the country. This will help us pare down the amount of money spent on special education and allow us to use that money to give students a world-class education in the D.C. school system."

Erika Pierson, the school system's deputy general counsel, told the post that the Supreme Court ruling "will keep some attorneys from filing frivolous cases."

Read "D.C. Schools See Opportunity to Pare Back," (Washington Post)


When this came across my email as an alert, I wept.

Here's the long and the short of it:

If you are a parent with an IEP child and you wish to bring an action, the burden is upon YOU, the parent, to prove your allegation. It's not as easy as it might sound. There's quite a bit of legal manuvering, deadlines to be met and rules to be adhered to. Further, you need to know how to cross a witness, demand on-time transcripts and write a 30 page legal document at the end of the hearing, stating the presecedent you rely upon, and proving your case point by legal point.

The school has the power and money to hire a legal firm, and that's exactly what the parent will be up against. Parent v. Seasoned Attorney. Do the scales seem a bit tipped?

Some parents will be able to afford an attorney. Many, I suspect, will not be able to.

If you are a low income parent, or a person without access to information on how to go about fighting for your child's rights, you are truly at the mercy of the system.

The Justices have turned their backs on us.

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