A class-action suit filed on Wednesday challenges Virginia’s implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia asserts that when parents challenge school plans for how to educate their children, hearing officers rarely side with parents, The Richmond Times Dispatch reports.
The federal law details early invention, special education and other services that must be provided to eligible children and youth with disabilities to ensure they receive a proper education.
Parents who question services offered for their child can file a complaint and go before a judge, but the suit asserts that about two-thirds of hearing officers have never ruled in parents’ favor in the last 20 years.
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The suit was filed by Trevor and Vivian Chaplick, the parents of a Fairfax County Public Schools student and founders of Hear Our Voices Inc., an advocacy organization for people with disabilities. It names the Fairfax County School Board and division Superintendent Michelle Reid, the Virginia Department of Education and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow.
The Chaplicks wanted their son, who “has faced significant challenges in his life including Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder" and other disabilities, according to the suit, to be placed in a residential education facility, but the district rejected the idea that he needed to leave the division.
Despite a warning from a school system social worker that “they should not bother (with the case) because they ‘would lose,’” the Chaplicks went ahead with a due-process hearing. Their son was placed at a residential educational facility, but the school division doesn’t pay the facility costs, according to his parents.
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The Chaplicks began investigating the state Department of Education, which Trevor Chaplick said hires, certifies, trains and pays the hearing officers annually, creating a temptation for the officers to rule in favor of the schools. He wants the state to create an independent commission without an economic interest in hearing outcomes.
The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the hearing officer system “deprives families of procedural due process," the complaint states. They also want the department to be found out of compliance with the federal law.
A spokesperson for the state Department of Education and a spokesperson for Fairfax County schools didn't immediately respond to the newspaper's requests for comment.