If your child is eligible for special education but her needs are not being met, you can seek legal action against your child’s school district.  Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the first step in redressing your child’s special education rights is filing for a due process hearing.  A due process hearing is an administrative hearing in which you and the school district present evidence about your child’s education needs to a hearing officer or administrative law judge.  The hearing functions similar to a court proceeding but is more informal.  You and the school district can offer witnesses; present documents, such as Individualized Education Programs and evaluation reports; and offer opening and closing arguments.  You can proceed pro se or hire a special education lawyer.  Hearing officers and administrative law judges have the power to order compensatory education services, prospective educational services, and placement at a private school.

Due process hearings involve these steps:

  • A parent commences a due process hearing by filing a due process complaint.  The complaint must state the child’s name, address, and school; it must describe the specific educational problem; and it must include ideas to resolve the problem.
  • Within fifteen days of the parent filing the complaint, the parent and school district must hold a “resolution session.”  A resolution session is similar to a settlement conference.  The goal of the session is to resolve the parent’s concerns.  The thirty days following the filing of the parent’s complaint is considered the “resolution period.”
  • If the parent and school district do not resolve the case within the thirty-day resolution period, the presiding hearing officer or administrative law judge must be prepared to decide the case in the next forty-five days.  However, the parties can agree to an extension of this forty-five-day period.
  • The due process hearing is held during the forty-five-day period.  The hearing can last one day or multiple days.  It must be held at a location that is reasonably convenient to the parent and child.  Oftentimes, hearings are held at a school district’s administrative offices.  The School District of Philadelphia, for example, holds hearings in its downtown office.
  • After the due process hearing concludes, the hearing officer or administrative law judge will issue a decision.  The parent or school district can appeal the decision to federal court.

Berney & Sang has represented hundreds of parents at special education due process hearings.  If you have concerns about your child’s education, don’t hesitate to contact the firm for a free consultation.  We are based in Philadelphia and serve clients across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Florida.