Saturday, April 20, 2013

AASA, the Emperor's New Clothes, Special Education Mediations and Due Process Hearings

In Hans Christian Andersen's story, The Emperor's New Clothes, a vain king with an insatiable appetite for fine clothing, finds himself marching in a parade wearing nothing but his birthday suit. He is the victim of his obsession with sartorial splendor, and of a pair of swindlers who have told him that his "new clothing" is made from such wonderful stuff that it is invisible to anyone who is incompetent or stupid. After an elaborate charade in which the king is "dressed" in the new garments, his lord chamberlain, ministers and advisors who are fearful of losing their jobs, public recognition, and authority, heartily engage in the fraud proclaiming, "How beautiful the Emperor's new clothes are!" Notwithstanding their falderal, upon seeing the king walking naked in public, a small child says, "He doesn't have anything on!" Although the king knew the child was right, he decided that the parade would go on, and holding himself even more proudly, he continued the procession with the lord chamberlain walking along behind him carrying the train of his nonexistent coat.

This story came to mind when I read the 30 page paper issued on April 8, 2013, by the AASA (American Association of School Administrators). In it, the AASA recommends that Congress completely eliminate special education due process hearings and remove the provisions of the IDEA that make mediation agreements legally binding and allow attorneys to represent parents at those mediations. The AASA proposes to replace the procedures with state-approved IEP meeting facilitators, non-binding mediation, and provisions allowing parents to file law suits directly in federal court (think $$$ for the parents) without an opportunity to resolve disputes through state department of education administrative hearings.  Since due process hearings are less expensive than federal court proceedings, this would place an additional burden on parents who need to challenge school decisions.

What kind of thinking underlies proposals that would essentially place the fox in charge of the hen house? Are the AASA’s recommendations merely based on an arrogant and naive assumption that public education systems and their personnel are so highly expert and scrupulously thorough that they identify and accurately evaluate each and every child with a disability in every area of their suspected disabilities, write IEPs in a manner that will meet each child’s unique needs and conforms to the law, and that the school personnel who implement them are all equally competent and effective, and neither harbor prejudices nor have their hands tied by restrictions in regard to the assistance they are allowed to recommend or provide?

I don’t think so.

It seems more likely that like the king in the story above, the AASA and its members know when the education systems and personnel they represent aren’t appropriately garbed. But instead of acknowledging and taking responsibility for the nakedness of those systems and personnel, they prefer to advocate for the elimination of the mediation and due process hearing procedures that have an inconvenient tendency to reveal that public education agencies and school districts don’t always operate in compliance with the IDEA and its implementing regulations. By extension, the AASA would probably also support the elimination of studies, such as the one conducted by the federal Department of Education in 2009, which found that only twenty-eight states met the IDEA’s compliance standards.

If the AASA’s proposals demonstrate anything, they demonstrate the kind of overreaching on the part of public school agencies that Congress anticipated when it enacted the portions of the IDEA which afford procedural protections to the parents of children with disabilities.  I join with COPAA (Counsel of Parent Attorneys and Advocates) which has stated that the AASA document is nothing more than a shameful attack on parent and student civil rights.  See COPAA's statement at: