Legislation seeks to shift burden of proof in special education hearings

Bill would alleviate burdensome process for parents

March 06, 2013|Erica L. Green

A bill introduced in Annapolis this legislative session would make it easier for parents to challenge school systems when they believe their special education students are not receiving a proper education.

Senate Bill 691, introduced by Sen. Karen Montgomery, a Montgomery County democrat, seeks to shift the burden of proof to local school systems in due process hearings, which advocates say are usually burdensome for parents who are often outnumbered, overwhelmed and outspent when they go before an administrative judge to settle disputes. 

Due process hearings--which mirror civil court trials--are one of the pivotal rights afforded to parents under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) when they are either fighting to obtain certain services for their students, or are seeking to transfer their students to a private institution that can better suit their needs.

But, in more cases than not, parents lose, or spend thousands in attorney fees fighting the cases, in their quests to prove that their child is being denied a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). 

The Senate's Education, Health & Environmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on the bill last week, and the House held a hearing Wednesday.

Below is testimony from a Baltimore City parent who attended the House committee hearing:

I am writing to ask Legislators to support Senate Bill 691

After fighting the fight of my life, having my daughter delivered while I was in a coma; 26 weeks premature, 1.8 lbs and a cranial bleed.

I never thought that I would have a fight equally as difficult with Baltimore City's School System, to provide my daughter with an appropriate education program that met the needs of her disability.

I was forced to have a "Due Process Hearing"  and prove that an educational program was inadequate; when the educational professionals had full access to records, teachers, experts and therapists. I was informed that my daughter had an adequate education and received no help from the educational professionals.

I didn't initially realize that an adequate education isn't an appropriate or the best education, until I began to prepare for a "Due Process Hearing".

At that time I realized that the school system that was obligated to educate my daughter, was my adversary. Parents are constantly put in the position as if they are education professionals, to prove that a school system is not appropriate for their child's education.

By supporting Senate Bill 691  the "Burden of Proof" will be put back to the school system where the education professionals will be able to guide parents and students in the right direction. Currently, most school systems won't inform parents that there are non -public schools that could best suit their child's disability.

Having the right educational program for a student will better the chances of him/her being independent and being productive in society.

While thousands pour into Annapolis to support Baltimore City School's 10 year plan for beautiful school buildings, I'm asking you to support better education.


Rhonda Wimbish
Mother/ Special Education Advocate
41 District



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