Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Handicapped Children's Protection Act of 1986: Time to Pay the Piper?

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Handicapped Children's Protection Act of 1986: Time to Pay the Piper?

Article excerpt

The Handicapped Children's Protection Act of 1986: Time to Pay the Piper?

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (EAHCA), Public Law (P.L.) 94-142, and regulations implementing it provide for a free, appropriate public education for all handicapped childen. The act also provides procedural safeguards for parents of handicapped children when special education decisions are made by the schools. These safeguards ensure that the rights of handicapped children are protected. Parents have recourse to administrative remedies and to state and federal courts under the provisions of the EAHCA. However, the law does not address relief available to parents who successfully contest the special education decision made by the schools. As a result the courts have been forced to interpret congressional intent in fashioning appropriate forms of relief to be provided to the parents prevailing in special education lawsuits. This article examines the remedies that the courts have granted, including injunctive relief, tuition reimbursement, and attorneys' fees. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Smith v. Robinson (1984), which held that attorneys' fees were not available to parents prevailing in special education lawsuits, was widely viewed as undercutting the opportunities of parents to dispute school decisions concerning handicapped children. In response to this ruling, the U.S. Congress passed the Handicapped Children's Protection Act of 1986 (HCPA), P.L. 99-372. This act and judicial interpretations of it are analyzed and educational implications of the HCPA are discussed.

HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

Education for All Handicapped Children Act

The EAHCA, P.L. 94-142, was signed into law by President Ford in 1975. (The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 is usually referred to as P.L. 94-142 in educational circles. However, in the Handicapped Children's Protection Act of 1986, P.L. 94-142 is referred to by the name of the act and not the number of the law. To remain consistent throughout this article, therefore, the law will be referred to by name and not number.) The purpose of the law was to ensure that all handicapped children would receive a free appropriate public education. Turnbull (1986) identified six major principles of the law, one of which concerned procedural safeguards provided to the parents or guardians of handicapped children. The purpose of these safeguards was to keep the parents informed of school decisions and to allow them to participate in and challenge these decisions regarding the provisions of special education services for their children.

The procedural safeguards grant parents the opportunity to examine all relevant records concerning their child, to obtain an independent evaluation, to receive prior notice if the school proposes to change or refuses to initiate a change in the educational program, and to participate in team placement decisions. In the event of a dispute between the parents and the school over the child's education, either party is given the right to an impartial due process hearing before an impartial hearing officer. During the hearing, the participants are given the right to be accompanied and advised by counsel and the right to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses. Upon completion of the review, the hearing officer makes an independent decision as to which party prevails. This decision is considered final; however, if the parents or school ae not satisfied with the decision, they may appeal tothe state education department. The impartial due process hearing and state department review are referred to as administrative remedies. After they have been exhausted, either party may initiate a lawsuit in federal or state court. Usually the parents or guardians will sue the school district under the EAHCA. The court's task is to review records of the administrative proceedings, hear additional evidence at the request of either party, and render a decision. …

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