Sununu indicators invoice shifting burden of proof in particular training hearings to varsities | Native Information
A bill signed by Governor Chris Sununu on Thursday gives parents more power in disputes with schools over special education agreements.
House Bill 581, signed by Sununu Thursday afternoon, puts the burden of proof on schools in hearings on individualized education programs for children. The change means that when parents request a due process hearing to challenge the school’s implementation of the IEPs, schools will have the burden of proof that their decisions were justified, both through persuasion and production of evidence.
“This burden is covered by a preponderance of evidence,” says the law.
The Disabled Education Act, first passed in 1975, requires school districts in the United States to provide special education to students with established disabilities. This law also created IEPs, which represent the district’s individual plan for each student based on the student’s assessment and contributions from the school and family.
New Hampshire has a resolution process for families who are dissatisfied with the way the IEP has been drawn up or implemented. According to state law, the Ministry of Education must appoint “hearing officers” who can oversee disputes and issue subpoenas to coerce evidence.
However, some parents had complained that the process of raising concerns about special education for their children was complicated and preferred to schools.
During the testimony for HB 581 earlier this year, some said school districts can make it difficult for parents to access sufficient testing and assessment data to know if their student has been helped or harmed by an IEP. Others cited the substantial cost of hiring an attorney to gather the evidence needed to win against their school district.
But the New Hampshire School Board Association rejected the bill, claiming that due process hearings are already rare, with most issues resolved each year without the formal hearing process. Shifting the burden of proof to schools would mean that cases that made it into the hearing phase could become costly for schools without legal protection, the association argued.
The New Hampshire Association of Special Education Administrators also opposed the bill, warning against increases in local property taxes.
The New Hampshire Disability Rights Center, which supported the bill, rejected the financial argument. Mike Skibbie, the center’s political director, responded that the center would welcome the schools’ decision to allocate more resources to special education programs in response to the bill.
IEP implementation has been a national issue for years. In one 2005 case, two Maryland parents sued their school district in federal court over a proposed IEP; the lawsuit was dismissed by a federal appeals court.
When the matter came to the US Supreme Court, the court found that the default burden of proof on parents when suing the school district. But the court left open the possibility for states to enact laws to reverse this dynamic of power and place a burden on schools instead.
HB 581 is New Hampshire’s attempt to take that legislative approach, sponsor Glenn Cordelli, a Republican from Tuftonboro, said earlier this year.
The bill was unanimously supported by all parties this year, with a 24-0 vote in the Senate and one vote in the House of Representatives.
The new law also establishes a legislative study committee to examine options to improve the dispute settlement process for IEPs, including how the state can better monitor schools for compliance with the Disabled Education Act.
In a statement Thursday, Cordelli praised the bill, arguing it was “a level playing field”.
“Every student deserves access to a quality education that best suits their needs, and it is our job to ensure that children with disabilities have equal opportunities,” he said. “… Before this legislation, parents trying to meet the needs of their children had to spend thousands of dollars to contest a plan without the significant resources made available to the school district.”