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Special Education Court Decisions on the Rise

Posted Feb 01 2011 1:51am

Christina Samuels at Education Week has a recent piece Special Education Court Decisions on the Rise . She describes a study from Lehigh University which shows that the number of special education court decisions is on the rise:

After two decades of decline, education litigation appears to be on the rise, with special education leading the way, according to an analysis from Lehigh University professor Perry A. Zirkel, an expert in special education law.

Zirkel’s paper on his findings will appear in full in an upcoming issue of West’s Education Law Reporter, but he walked me through the findings.

Using West’s Key Number System, Zirkel tabulated state and federal court decisions by decades, starting in the 1940s. In the 1970s, state and federal education decisions combined reached a high of about 7,600 decisions, but dropped to about 7,300 decisions in the 1980s and under 7,000 decisions in the 1990s. When Zirkel counted the cases for 2000 through November 2010, he expected to see the same downward trend. Instead, the number was higher even than in the 1970s, at about 8,000 reported decisions

The rise is due to an increase in Federal court cases. State court decisions are declining.

It is worth noting that not all cases are brought forth by parents. A story from May 2010 indicates that in California 4 of 9 decisions issued were brought forth by the district.

It is also worth noting that districts tend to prevail. The paper from Lehigh indicates that 65% of cases are won by districts and that this fraction hasn’t changed with time.

In the story from California, in only 1 of 9 cases were clearly won by the family.

In other Special Ed news:

A recent piece at Disability Scoop, Parents Threaten Suit Alleging Special Education Cuts ‘Disproportionate’ , discusses how in a Connecticut district, layoffs are focused on special education:

Parents in one Connecticut town are threatening to sue after learning that special educators would bear the brunt of proposed layoffs while other teachers would be unaffected.

Under a budget plan from the superintendent of the Stamford, Conn. school district, 12 special education teachers would be let go in addition to five of the district’s social workers and four speech pathologists. Meanwhile, it would be business as usual for the regular education staff.

A story from Nashua, New Hampshire discusses rising special education costs, especially those involving out of district placements.

Placing special education students in schools outside the district can be expensive and unpredictable.

While most special ed placements run somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000, some cost the district more than $100,000. And when a new student moves in who needs extensive educational services, it can have a dramatic impact on the budget.

Just in the last month, the district has gone from 95 placements to 107, in part because of new students moving into the city, according to school officials.

The story caught my eye for a good statement from the special education director:

“We do everything we can to appropriately educate our kids, but some youngsters have challenges beyond what we can provide,” said Jan Martin, director of special education.

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  2. stanley seigler:
    thanks for the info...sad we measure quality of special ed by rise/fall of court cases...so much time/energy spent in court vice class rooms... stanley seigler
  3. Astrid:
    "It is also worth noting that districts tend to prevail. The paper from Lehigh indicates that 65% of cases are won by districts and that this fraction hasn’t changed with time." That is sad. It is already sad that people need to go to court for a quality education, but that the parents lose in 75% of the cases, is even more problematic. I understand the need for budget cuts, but they don't need to fall on the most vulnerable of schoolchildren.

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