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October 19, 2010 > Early resolution of educational disputes serves students with disabilities

Early resolution of educational disputes serves students with disabilities

Submitted By Linda Embrey

Parents of students with disabilities should try to resolve disputes about educational issues through a hearing process established by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) before filing a lawsuit, says the National School Boards Association (NSBA) in an amicus brief filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case, Payne v. Peninsula School District, involves an autistic student whose individualized education program, or IEP, included the use of a "safe room" to address some of his behavioral difficulties. Windy Payne, the child's mother, accused a teacher at his school of mistreating her son by improperly utilizing this behavioral intervention method. Rather than first using the IDEA's hearing process to resolve her dispute, Payne filed a federal lawsuit claiming the teacher's use of the "safe room" caused her son psychological damage and violated his rights under the IDEA and the U.S. Constitution.

The case was previously heard in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, where the court ruled that Payne did not have the right to bring her claim to court because she had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies under IDEA. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit agreed, but now Payne's appeal will be re-heard by the entire 9th Circuit on December 15.

"Autism is a complicated disability and all aspects of educating an autistic student should be addressed by a team of educators and the student's parents through the IEP process," said NSBA's Executive Director Anne L. Bryant.

When students have an IEP that includes behavioral intervention, NSBA's brief argues that parents should follow dispute resolution requirements outlined in IDEA before suing in federal court. The brief also notes that "Congress intended to make IDEA dispute resolution less formal, as opposed to other time-consuming and adversarial mechanisms like civil litigation."

"Since IDEA's passage, some parents have preferred to prematurely litigate cases involving students with disabilities instead of first following the IDEA requirements before going to court," said NSBA's General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón Jr. "School districts nationally have an interest in seeing that educational matters are resolved as early and as quickly as possible. This avoids costly and prolonged litigation that drains resources away from the classroom and unnecessarily delays delivery of appropriate services to students with disabilities."

Founded in 1940, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) is a not-for-profit organization representing state associations of school boards and their 95,000 local school board members throughout the U.S. (www.nsba.org).

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