Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Due Process - Part 2
I started my story of due process last week, and this week I will continue. It's surprising to me how relating the story is getting me on edge again. The issue is resolved, but I'm finding the reliving of the process rather difficult...
Filing For Due Process
Deciding to file due process against my school district was not an easy decision to make. I knew that an attorney was likely to cost me a second mortgage on my house. I had heard about the bully school attorney, and how he had reduced other mothers to tears in front of the hearing officer. I read the statistics about how school districts prevail in due process 98% of the time. And I knew that trying to fight another, really big, battle along with being a single parent to four children (and three of those with disabilities), a full-time computer engineer and maintaining my various commitments to boards and advisory councils was going to be tough. But I didn’t realize just how tough.
I contacted my state’s protection and advocacy organization – called the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy (VOPA). They reviewed the issues and decided to take the case at no charge. And while I knew the school district attorney was a bully, I have never met a stronger, more committed, more intelligent attorney that my VOPA attorney.
Jonathan, the VOPA attorney, filed the necessary paperwork to initiate due process and told me to be strong. A hearing officer was assigned, and the attorneys and the hearing officer began to talk. Mediation was suggested as a first step. I had very little hope that mediation would result in anything meaningful because I felt like all the steps leading to due process had been mediation. But, I went through the motions.
The mediation meeting was held the school district central offices (home team advantage, perhaps they were thinking). The director of special education, a very disingenuous woman with whom I had spoken too many times to count, was there along with two other ‘specialists’. The meeting was facilitated by the mediator, an older woman supposedly trained to keep blood from flowing between the parties.
I talked – they talked – we got nowhere. Since attorneys cannot attend a mediation meeting, every so often I would excuse myself and go to another room to discuss with my attorney the progress (?) we were making. I tried to play nicely – I tried to find a common ground – I really did. But the school district representatives refused to budge and kept checking their watches as if they had more important things to do. After three hours, the mediator declared the game over.
The next three or four weeks leading up to the actual hearing were spent collecting and organizing documentation, consulting with the ‘expert’ we hired for our evaluation, and practicing the actual cross examination. My attorney knew the school district attorney was going to go after me with a vengeance, so he went after me with a vengeance first, toughening me up for the hearing. I also spent some time googling the hearing officer’s name. That may sound like a strange thing to do, but there was a method to my madness.
I wanted to know what type of person the hearing officer was. I wanted to know if he had definite views on certain subjects – subjects I should either avoid or mention. I wanted to know how many due process cases he had presided over and how he had decided. I wanted to get inside his head to see if I could then get him inside mine at the hearing.
I found out one interesting fact with my googling. Mr. Hearing Officer was a regular contributor to the adoption agency that had placed Ashley in my home. Knowing that, I bet that it would be a good thing to share with Mr. Hearing Officer that I had adopted both Ashley and my oldest daughter through that agency. Would it help at all? I had no idea, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt.
The week before the hearing, I don’t think I got more than a couple of hours sleep each night. I kept practicing over and over in my mind how I would respond to the school district attorney, and how I would maintain self-control and not let him get to me. I’m not a drinking woman, but that week I rethought that stance….
I didn’t realize this story was going to be so long. I thought I could tell it in three installments, but that doesn’t seem to be working. This has gone too long already, so part three will be next week….