With permission, we are sharing the following from the Cleary/Fowler Law Office in Gary, Indiana. House Bill 1629 and Senate Bill 507 will be heard in committee Wednesday, February 13.
Does your child have an Individualized Education Program, or IEP? Two bills pending in the Indiana legislature will make you pay for the right to challenge that IEP in court.
The federal law that created special education as we know it today--the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act--envisioned the IEP process as a collaborative effort between school staff and parents, with the shared goal of creating a program of special education that enables children with disabilities to one day live as independently as possible.
But too often, the IEP process fails to live up to these expectations. To address these rare circumstances, Congress created a procedure in the IDEA that enables parents to request a hearing to remedy their child's IEP. These "due process" hearings are decided by administrative judges and are parents’ last hope for securing an appropriate education for their children.
Unfortunately, two proposed Indiana laws are designed to frustrate the purpose of the IDEA and prevent parents from asserting their childrens' rights in due process hearings.
HB 1629 and SB 507 do this by wielding a powerful weapon against parents: money. Specifically, these bills will force parents to pay the school's attorney fees and litigation expenses if the parents don’t receive relief better than what the school offered. Put another way, even parents who win their cases may be forced to pay thousands of dollars to the school district after the case is decided. These bills will also force parents to pay for one half of the judge's fee in all hearings, win or lose, an amount which could easily rise into the thousands of dollars.
The purpose is clear--by giving school district attorneys the ability to threaten parents with tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and expenses, parents will be discouraged from asserting their children’s educational civil rights guaranteed by federal law.
These bills contain a number of other provisions that will take Indiana backwards in education policy. One provision will exclude email and other electronic communications from Indiana's public records law, making our public schools less transparent and accountable. Another will require parents to obtain permission from the judge in their case before retaining an attorney of their own choosing! This requirement would infringe on a citizen’s right to hire his or her own attorney and would mark a dangerous breach of democratic norms.
Worse yet, the language in these bills is so sweeping that it would apply to any lawsuit initiated against a school—including claims for gender or race discrimination, disability discrimination, personal injury, and even employment claims brought by teachers or administrators against their school district.
Besides being likely unconstitutional, these bills do nothing to help education in Indiana. They are deliberately designed to make justice so expensive that it's unobtainable.
Most concerning is the fact that they reflect an ongoing trend in Indiana. During last year's legislative session, a law was enacted that required parents to provide notice 15 days in advance of requesting a due process hearing. This law--which duplicated a law already on the books since 1998--has since been used as another bureaucratic obstacle to prevent parents from asserting their child’s civil rights.
HB 1629 and SB 507 would mark a huge step backward in education policy. They would erect additional roadblocks for parents simply seeking to improve their child’s education, and they would disproportionately harm low-income parents, who already lack the special education options found in neighboring states. These bills should be rejected.
Instead of finding creative new ways to discourage parents from helping their disabled children, Indiana's legislators should ask parents: How can we help? The answers might surprise them.
Senate Education Committee members:
Republicans: Senators Raatz (chair), Buchanan, Crane, Freeman (bill sponsor), Kruse, Leising, Rogers, and Spart; Democrats: Senators Melton, Mrvan, Stoops
S27@iga.in.gov, S7@iga.in.gov, S24@iga.in.gov, S32@iga.in.gov, S14@iga.in.gov, S42@iga.in.gov, S11@iga.in.gov, S20@iga.in.gov, S3@iga.in.gov, S1@iga.in.gov, S40@iga.in.gov
House Education Committee members:
Chair: Rep. Robert Behning - firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice Chair: Rep. Anthony Cook - email@example.com Rep. Woody Burton - firstname.lastname@example.org Rep. Edward Clere - email@example.com Rep. Dale DeVon - firstname.lastname@example.org Rep. Chuck Goodrich - email@example.com Rep. Jack Jordan - firstname.lastname@example.org Rep. Jim Lucas - email@example.com Rep. Jeffrey Thompson - firstname.lastname@example.org Rep. Vernon Smith - email@example.com Rep. Edward DeLaney - firstname.lastname@example.org Rep. Sheila Klinker - email@example.com Rep. Tonya Pfaff - firstname.lastname@example.org