November 14, 2005

Court rules against parents on special education

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on
Monday that parents who challenge a special education program
for their disabled child must prove that it is inadequate.

The ruling was a defeat for a Maryland family who had
contested a program designed by Montgomery County for their
son, who has learning disabilities and speech impairments. They
had argued the burden of proof should be with the school
district to show that the program meets federal requirements.

But the court, in a 6-2 vote, disagreed. In a majority
opinion written by retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the
Supreme Court said that those who challenge the program at
administrative hearings had to show that it was inadequate.

The federal law at issue in the case, the Individuals With
Disabilities Education Act, does not specifically say whether
parents or schools have the burden of proof in such disputes.
The law covers special education services to about seven
million children across the country.

O'Connor said the law does not support the family's
contention that every individual education program should be
assumed to be invalid until the school district demonstrates it
to be valid.

She said the court was not deciding a separate issue on
whether states could adopt laws to put the burden of proof
always on the school district in such disputes.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer dissented.
Ginsburg said she was persuaded that policy considerations,
convenience and fairness call for assigning the burden of proof
to the school district in this case.