How to Handle Special Ed Disputes

By Sherry Hall Culves

According to recent statistics, school districts across the nation found themselves faced with 17,228 special education due process complaints and another 4,920 written state Department of Education complaints filed in just one year.    More and more seasoned special education teachers are leaving the profession, saying they are burned out from the stress and burden that litigious families can cause. The U.S. Department of Education’s data reveals that special education students currently make up more than 13 percent of our public schools’ population.

Despite overwhelming substantive and procedural requirements under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), the estimated average federal funding received per disabled child is only $1,767 -- well below the cost of serving these students and certainly below the expense of defending their legal challenges.

Despite these statistics, it is a common misconception that IDEA disputes only affect the special education department and not the rest of the school or the district. In fact, in today’s climate of inclusion, general education teachers are just as likely to be engulfed in a special education dispute.

Additionally, in light of the high stakes at hand -- from disabled children’s rights to costly attorney’s fees to expensive private services and an often sympathetic media -- a few high-profile special education disputes can do more damage to your school system than you can imagine.

This article will focus on 10 steps you can take to plan for, assess, and mitigate the risks associated with costly IDEA battles. What can you do now to keep the financial burdens of special education from breaking your school’s bank?

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