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Utilizing the due process hearing for your special needs child

As a parent, you are probably ready to fight when your child's needs are in question. After all, you are your child's voice and perhaps the only one to advocate for his or her rights. If your child has a learning disability or other special needs, you may have to fight more than most, especially when it comes to obtaining for your child the most complete and appropriate educational opportunities possible.

When your child's teacher, school or district fails to provide that appropriate education, you may wonder about your options. After all, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that students with special needs receive a free public education that is appropriate for their abilities. If you disagree with the school district's decisions about what is appropriate for your child, you may wish to understand how a due process hearing can work for you.

Exercising your right to protect your child

A due process hearing is the procedure educational systems use to decide the most appropriate services for children with special needs. You have a right to such a hearing, especially if you disagree with the current methods the school is implementing or if the school is not abiding by the individual educational program your child's team drafted. If you have made numerous unsuccessful attempts to resolve the matter with the school or district, a hearing may be your next step. In general, a due process hearing may follow these steps:

  • You make a statement to a trained and neutral hearing officer.
  • You have the burden of proof, so it will help to present facts with as much documentation as possible.
  • You may present your child's educational records, assessments and referrals, reports from private evaluators, confidential special education documents, progress reports and any other relevant information.
  • You may introduce witness testimony in person or through affidavits or deposition.
  • The school district will have an opportunity to present its case and cross-examine any witnesses you offer.
  • The hearing officer will weigh the information and make a ruling, which you may be able to appeal if you disagree.

As you can see, a due process hearing is similar to a trial. Each state has its own procedures for due process hearings, and an attorney with a firm grasp of South Carolina's requirements and experience in special education law can be of the most assistance to you. In fact, you may find that such an attorney can benefit you every step of the way as you seek every possible advantage for your child.

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