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Thursday, February 10, 2011

WIll the State Review Office be eliminated?

The effort to eliminate the New York State Review Office continues. Here’s a link to the bill introduced in the Assembly on January 5, 2011. There was a legislative effort to eliminate the SRO last year. This bill is evidence of at least some sentiment in favor of the elimination of the office. The climate is certainly ripe. Putting aside any considerations of the absence in fairness at the SRO, the SRO is an unnecessary expenditure. It is not mandated by federal law and thus, it should be an easy target and a sensible one for cost cutting in these tough economic times.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bloomberg goes after publicly funded private placements

Mayor Bloomberg addressed the NYS legislature yesterday and called upon the legislature to make it harder for public school students to attend private schools at taxpayer expense. Specifically, he noted that students should be required to attend public schools prior to their parents’ having a right to make a reimbursement claim. Hmm, didn’t the Supreme Court just have something to say about this?

I expect that the shit may hit the fan in the next month or two. There’s a maelstrom brewing–Governor Cuomo’s budget cuts, the State Ed proposals that continue to chip away at the rights of students with disabilities and their parents, Mayor Bloomberg’s comments, …

Monday, February 7, 2011

District Court awards attorney fees to prevailing school district; 9th Circuit reverses

R.P. v. PRESCOTT UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, __ F. 3d. __, #09-15651 (9th Cir. 2-4-2011): The IDEA authorizes a court to award attorney fees to a prevailing school district “against the attorney of a parent who files a complaint or subsequent cause of action that is frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, or against the attorney of a parent who continued to litigate after the litigation clearly became frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation” and “against the attorney of a parent, or against the parent, if the parent's complaint or subsequent cause of action was presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, to cause unnecessary delay, or to needlessly increase the cost of litigation.” (20 USC §1415(i)(3)(B)).

In this case, the District Court saddled the parents and their lawyer with a $140,000 fee award to the district. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and made clear that a District Court must be very careful about awarding attorney fees against a parent or the parent’s attorney for “lawyers would be improperly discouraged from taking on potentially meritorious IDEA cases if they risked being saddled with a six-figure judgment for bringing a suit where they have a plausible, though ultimately unsuccessful, argument.” Specifically, the 9th Circuit held that the parents’ claim was not “without foundation” as they had sought compensatory education, they had made plausible arguments as to why they should have prevailed, and “the fact that the arguments were not successful does not make them frivolous.” The Court also held that “the district court erred in holding that anger is an improper purpose that could justify an award of attorney's fees” noting that “anger is a legitimate reaction by parties who believe that their rights have been violated or ignored. One of the roles of the adversarial system is to peaceably resolve disputes that give rise to personal animosity by channeling that indignation into a lawful resolution in lieu of feuding or personal violence.”

NYS State Ed Dept. recommends important changes to special education laws and regulations

State Ed. continues to push the Board of Regents to make changes to the special education regulations. In a memo dated February 1, 2011, State Ed. recommends, inter alia, the following:
        * “Simplify and clarify some of the requirements for service provision and billing for students with disabilities who are residents of the State attending nonpublic schools located in the State and are dually enrolled in public schools for purposes of special education and receive services pursuant to an individualized education service program (IESP) developed by the CSE of the school district of location in the same manner and with the same contents as an IEP.” (I note that in the effort to “simplify and clarify”, it is entirely unclear what State Ed. proposes here).
        * “Reduce the two year statute of limitations on commencement of an impartial hearing to the federal standard of one year.” (This one is crystal clear, but buried in the long list of recommendations and not highlighted in the introductory summary paragraphs).
        * “Eliminate requirements that go beyond federal law of having the school psychologist and an additional parent member as members of the CSE and the requirement for a physician to be a member of the CSE if requested by the school or parent 3 days before the meeting.”
        * Eliminate sub-CSEs
        * “Eliminate the requirement that an individual evaluation include specific assessments to be conducted as part of the initial evaluation: physical examination, individual psychological evaluation, social history, observation, other appropriate evaluations and functional behavioral assessment (FBA) when behavior impedes learning.”
        * “Eliminate the requirements that BOEs have plans and policies for appropriate declassification of students with disabilities – regular consideration for declassifying students when appropriate and the provision of educational and support services upon declassification.” (Again, State Ed. speaks of the need to “simplify and clarify” and yet, it is unclear what State Ed. is recommending).
        * “Eliminate the requirement that the CSE/CPSE must provide a copy of the State's handbook for parents of students with disabilities or a locally approved handbook when a student is referred for special education.”
        * “Eliminate the requirement that membership of the CPSE includes an additional parent member and a municipality representative, except that the parent can decline the participation of the additional parent member and the attendance of the municipality representative is not required for a quorum.”
        * “Eliminate the requirement that the parent selects the preschool evaluator from list of approved evaluators.” (Is state ed. proposing that the parent no longer selects the evaluator or just that the evaluator would no longer have to be selected from the list?)
        * “ Repeal procedures for the appointment of students to State‐ supported schools.”
        * “Phase out Academic Intervention Services while phasing in Response to Intervention programs”
and the biggie “Eliminate the requirement that school districts observe Conservation Day”.