What are some of the key legal issues facing school district administrators in terms of special education?
Unfortunately; we are in a tremendously litigious environment. Special education litigation has just skyrocketed, particularly in the last couple of years.
What's driving this?
First of all, the law is not clear. It leaves tons of unanswered questions. Second, the law is so complex that it is essentially impossible for schools to be in 100 percent compliance with all of the procedural technicalities.
What's the core conflict behind special education lawsuits?
Certainly if Congress appropriated everything that the districts needed to meet all of the various needs of all of the children with disabilities, then, of course, there probably would never be disputes. In most cases that go to court, you see that the parents feel the student is not receiving a free appropriate public education, whereas the school system believes it is providing a free appropriate public education. Of course, the Supreme Court ruled back in 1982 that the standard isn't "best" education but simply "appropriate" education. Many of the cases come down to what is appropriate.
Do you see any trends in the litigation arena?
Autism is just huge in the litigation arena, and has been for the last decade. In many of these cases, parents want either private school, private home services or maybe even a residential facility, 24-hour care. And because that's a significant cost for a school district, a lot of school boards choose to defend their own programs because if they pay for private school for one child it becomes a precedent.
What role has the Web played?
Much of the increase in litigation can be explained by the Web and all the information out there. There are Web sites that give parents a roadmap for how to set up the educators at your next IEP meeting, how to prepare to sue for your autistic child to go to a private school. Whether it's misinformation or not--and many times I believe it is misinformation--the Web kind of encourages parents to gather together and sue. …