The burden of proof and IEPs
Today the Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Brian Schaffer et al. v Jerry Weast, which turned on the question on who bore the burden of proof when an IEP was disputed (see the full story here).Young Mr. Schaffer allegedly suffers from learning diabilities and speech and language impairments. Although first at a private school, in 1998 he apparently began attending a public school. The Schaffers disagreed with the IEP because their experts claimed that he needed a self-contained program. When he was "mainstreamed," the parents claimed that the classes were too big. They were offered placement at another school, which they refused. They then placed him in another private school and sued the school district to pay the tuition for their son.
Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the 6 person majority, states that the burden of proof must remain where it traditionally lies-- upon the plaintiff. Further, according to syllabus available on the Duke Law School Supreme Court Online website,
"[IDEA] does not support petitioners' conclusion, in effect, that every IEP should be assumed to be invalid until the school district demonstrates that it is not. Petitioners' most plausible argument-- that ordinary fairness dictates that a litigant not have the burden of establishing facts peculiarly within the knowledge of his adversary, United States v. New York, N.H. and HR. Co., 355 U. S. 253, 256, n. 5-- fails because IDEA gives parents a number of procedural protections that ensure that they are not left without a realistic chance to access evidence or without an expert to match the government."
Lawyers for Montgomery County Public Schools had also argued that placing the burden of proof on the school districts would give parents more incentive to fight the school system. The strategy is obvious: more money would be diverted from other students' educations in order to keep parents from keeping school districts tied up in litigation forever.
Most parents of students with IEPs are wonderful people who are trying to get help for their kids. But there is a lack of a sense of fairness and community when it comes to some of the parents with whom I have attended IEP meetings. They do not care how much money is drained from the schools, as long as their outlandish demands are met.
There is a very finite source of funding for public education in this country. The kids who so easily get left out in the cold are the ones in the middle, the majority, and ironically the ones who will be the main body of workers and taxpayers in the future. Also not considered are the students whose disabilities are not so allegedly "extreme"-- these kids also have resources transferred away from them in favor of these few exceptional cases. Their education is shortchanged and underfunded as school districts are bled dry by people expecting public schools to pay for their children's private school tuition. It is irresponsible not to question the efficacy of the expenditure of these moneys. How much general good is generated by these expenses? How is "fairness" achieved in this manner?
Edited ending: IEPs should be viewed as an honest attempt to help a student, not as a quick way to make a buck at the expense of every other student.