New Bill Would Help Parents Fight School Districts | Care2 Causes

New Bill Would Help Parents Fight School Districts | Care2 Causes

A bill that would help parents fight their school districts might seem weird — after all, wouldn’t parents want to work with their school districts? Some parents are forced to take their districts to the mat, though, typically over disability services for their children, and the process can be frustrating, expensive, and, sometimes, unfruitful.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has proved to be a tireless advocate for disabled Americans, has just taken this issue up, and his proposal will make it easier for parents to take schools on when they refuse to provide sufficient disability services. If the bill passes, it could be yet another step towards full inclusion in schools for disabled children.
The bill involves the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This critical law mandates that school districts provide educational services to disabled children from ages three through 21. Schools are not allowed to discriminate against disabled students, and must work with students, teachers,and parents to develop an individualized education plan (IEP) if necessary to address specific accommodations the student will need to succeed in the classroom.
Sometimes, parents and schools clash over which services children need, whether it’s permission to bring an iPad into the classroom to take notes, more time on tests, or more extensive disability services. In these cases, schools and parents attempt to resolve the issue with a moderator, but the issue sometimes heads to court if the parties cannot resolve it.
The law allows a prevailing party in a case to recoup legal fees, which can be substantial. However, it doesn’t currently permit people to recover costs for expert witnesses. This puts parents in a bind, as they want to get the best services for their children, but they’re also aware that expert special education, medical and disability witnesses can be extremely expensive. If they don’t line up enough witnesses, the case may fail, but if they get the witnesses they need, they might not be able to afford them. Senator Harkin wants to change that by allowing parents to recover the costs not just for their attorneys, but also for their witnesses.
He also proposes that the costs of tests, evaluations and other tools necessary to build a case be covered as well. This would allow parents and children to focus on receiving a comprehensive evaluation, building a supportive witness list, and hiring excellent legal counsel, which will increase the chance of winning in court if the case has merits. In turn, this supports the rights of disabled children to go to school and get the accommodations they need to do well.
This proposal reflects the fact that many parents find it hard to bring IDEA cases to court, which leaves their children deprived of a full access to an education. In other cases, school districts simply wait such cases out, or bring a large complement of witnesses for their side, hoping to outspend parents. This tactic can be effective for wealthier districts, which can afford the up-front costs of waiting until parents are no longer able to keep up with the case. That could all change if this proposal becomes law, and that’s a good thing for disabled children seeking equal access to education.
Lest you think the proposal puts schools over the barrel, he’s also pushing for full funding of IDEA to increase the availability of funds to school districts struggling with accommodations requests. The goal is to make it easier for schools to meet the needs of disabled students, thereby reducing the number of IDEA disputes and to help parents in court when those disputes need to happen so that their children get justice.

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