Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Due Process - The Conclusion
Today brings my due process story to a close. If you like, you can catch up by reading Part One here, Part Two here, Part Three here, and Part Four here.
Our due process hearing was over and I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I wasn’t assured yet what the outcome would be, but I knew that for the immediate future, I couldn’t do anything else to affect that outcome. I was able to take a breath.
My attorney had told me that most due process decisions took about three weeks. He told me that the hearing officer would have to research the law, apply it to our particular situation, and then arrive at a decision. But three days after the hearing ended, I received a phone call from my attorney. He asked me to come by his office, but would say no more.
Immediately after work that day, I rushed to his office. I thought I saw a glimmer in his eye, but I was afraid to hope too much. I didn’t have to wait long for the news – the hearing officer had decided in our favor ON EVERY SINGLE POINT! He ruled that Ashley should receive extended school year services all summer long, during Christmas break, and during Spring break! I was ecstatic!
My attorney, our witnesses and I went out to celebrate that night, but my attorney cautioned us all that the school district would more than likely appeal the decision. He reminded me that this was the first time the school district attorney had lost, and that he expected retribution with a vengeance. And he was correct. The school district appealed the decision to Federal court within the week.
It was back to practicing and making ready for the Federal court trial, but at the last minute, the school district decided to withdraw providing we would agree to some settlement terms. I listened and I agreed. Part of the settlement agreement was that I would not disclose the contents of the agreement, but you can rest assured that if I had not been offered what I thought was appropriate for Ashley, I would not have settled.
It was a win – a big win – and most importantly, a huge step in the direction of an appropriate education for Ashley and for others who followed behind her. However, I still had lingering questions – would the school staff that had been involved, and especially the teacher who had been exposed during the hearing, treat Ashley differently? It was a situation that I continue to have to monitor even years later, but overall, things have gone well. Anyone considering due process must realize and must accept that relationships with the school district will be forever changed, regardless of the outcome of the due process hearing. It’s not unmanageable, not even negative, but different.
So what did I learn along the way, and what things might help other families facing a similar situation? Here is a list:
From the day your child enters school, and if your child is receiving special education services, or may receive them later, document EVERYTHING. Do NOT rely on phone conversations. Put everything in writing (email is fine). Prepare as if you will go to due process and hope that you never have to.
Do not rely on school evaluations. Those evaluations may be fine, but for a completely objective evaluation, find your own experts. And make sure they are experts. Expert testimony wins due process. The lack of expert testimony will lose 98% of the time.
Never ever go into due process without legal representation. Part of winning is knowing how to play the game. Unfortunately, you cannot rely on being ‘right’ to win. You have to be ‘right’ but you also have to know how to play.
And finally, never doubt that you know your child best. You know what works and what doesn’t work. You have the big picture – the rest of your child’s life – in your heart and mind. The teacher has one school year, and the school district has 12-15 years. Fight when you KNOW you have to fight – mediate if you can – thank the school staff when they do something right and good – but never give in to pressure when you know your child’s education is at risk.
Thanks to all the readers who have stuck with me through this long story. I hope it was worth your time, and I hope you found something useful for your child. And, I will be happy to talk to any of you at any time you may have questions or concerns.