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Parents Must Prove Claims of Inadequate IEP




On Nov. 14, 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that parents, not school officials, have the burden of proving a parents' claim that an individualized educational program (IEP) for a child with a disability does not satisfy the child's needs.

The 6-2 ruling came in the case of Schaffer v. Weast .  The case focused on who has the burden of proof in disputed cases under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  NEA supported the position that educators should not have the burden of proving that an IEP is appropriate but rather that parents who reject the IEP need to be able to prove why the IEP is not appropriate.

Justice O'Connor: Burden Placed on Party Seeking Relief

The Supreme Court agreed with that position.  Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority: "The burden of persuasion in an administrative hearing challenging an Individual Educational Plan is properly placed on the party seeking relief, whether that is the disabled child or the school district." In the Weast case, the Fourth Circuit had ruled the same way, reversing a District Court ruling putting the burden on the school district.

The parents' appeal to the Supreme Court argued unsuccessfully that school officials must always justify the appropriateness of a disabled child's IEP. 

The key issue with the Schaffer v. Weast decision is that it is the "complaining" or "challenging" party that owns the burden of proof. If the parents are alleging that the IEP is not appropriate, then they have the burden to prove this is so. If the school district alleges that the child's education is not appropriate (e.g., if the parents refuse to sign an IEP that has been changed or refuse to allow the child to be evaluated), then the district has the "burden of proof."

Ruling Will Impact Different States Differently

Patti Ralabate, NEA's special education expert, said the ruling will impact states differently depending upon what is already in place in the states.  There are some states that have already determined who has the burden of proof by legislation or previous court action.

In those states that have already determined that the school district has the burden of proof no matter whether the district or the parents are challenging the IEP, then the Schaffer v. Weast decision will have no effect. Likewise, some states already had determined that it is always the "challenging party" that has the burden of proof.

According to the Wrightslaw Web site , the Supreme Court ruling affects states as shown here:

No change --
Burden of proof continues to be on the school district:

No change --
Burden of proof continues to be the challenging party or "the party seeking relief" in the special education due process hearing:

CHANGE --
Burden is now on the challenging party or "party seeking relief" in the special education due process hearing:

          Alabama

          Colorado

          Arizona

          Alaska

          Kansas

          Arkansas

          Connecticut

          Louisiana

          California

          Washington, DC

          Maryland

          Florida

          Delaware

          Michigan

          Hawaii

          Georgia

          Mississippi

          Idaho

          Illinois

          Oklahoma

          Iowa

          Indiana

          New Mexico

          Maine

          Kentucky

          North Carolina

          Massachusetts

          Minnesota

          Ohio

          Missouri

          West Virginia

          South Carolina

          Montana

 

          Tennessee

          Nebraska

 

          Texas

          Nevada

 

          Utah

          New Hampshire

 

          Virginia

          New York

 

          Wyoming

          North Dakota

 

 

          Oregon

 

 

          Pennsylvania

 

 

          Puerto Rico

 

 

          Rhode Island

 

 

          South Dakota

 

 

          Vermont

 

 

          Washington

 

 

          Wisconsin