On July 9, 2009, Help Restore Fairness to the IDEA

Published on July 7, 2009 by Jennifer Laviano

Time and Motion black

This Thursday, July 9, 2009, thousands of individuals and organizations who care about the rights of students with disabilities are coordinating a “call in” to Congress to help to restore fairness in the IDEA by requiring that parents who prevail in Due Process Hearings against their districts are entitled to having their expert witnesses reimbursed.  Below, I have excerpted the entire description of the effort from COPAA (the Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates), which includes important legislative contact information and talking points.

In special education law, as in all areas, the pendulum swings between opposing interests.  However, in the Murphy decision, it swung so far that it has effectively gutted the rights enumerated in the IDEA for many families.  Please swing the pendulum back and take action on Thursday.  Let’s show Congress that those who care about special education rights speak with one, strong voice on this important issue!

Help Parents Recover Expert Witness Fees and Level the Playing Field!

CALL YOUR CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVE ON THURSDAY JULY 9 AND ASK THEM TO COSPONSOR THE IDEA FAIRNESS RESTORATION ACT, H.R. 2740!

Dial 202-224-3121 (TTY 202-225-1904) and ask for your Representative.  See below for instructions on how to identify your Representative.  We are asking everyone to do this; it is important for your Congressional Representatives to hear directly from you!

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Few parents can afford the thousands of dollars needed to pay for expert testimony that is necessary to prevail in IDEA due process hearings and litigation.  But school districts can use tax dollars to employ and pay for psychologists and other technical experts.  Parents have fewer resources and yet must bear a greater financial burden.  The IDEA Fairness Restoration Act, H.R. 2740, is necessary to allow parents to recover their expert witness fees.  It will restore Congress’ original intent.  This bipartisan bill, introduced by Congressman Chris Van Hollen (Maryland) and Pete Sessions (Texas), will help level the playing field and make the right to due process meaningful for parents across America.

Over 200 organizations support the bill, including the Arc, the Council of Parent Attorneys & Advocates, Inc. (COPAA), Easter Seals, National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC), National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), LDA, DREDF, TASH, CHADD, Center for Law and Education, Epilepsy Foundation, Autism Society of America, United Cerebral Palsy, Our Children Left Behind, and many others.  In addition, more than 2,100 families, advocates, attorneys, friends, colleagues, and others have signed a petition asking Congress to pass the bill.  Both the organizational and individual sign-ons will be posted on COPAA’s webpage shortly, www.copaa.org.

KEY POINTS TO SHARE WITH YOUR CONGRESSMAN’S OFFICE:
Why it’s important to cosponsor the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act (H.R. 2740).

The IDEA Fairness Restoration Act will override the Supreme Court’s decision in Arlington Central School District v. Murphy (2006) and allow parents who prevail in due process or litigation to be reimbursed for their expert witness fees. When prevailing parents cannot recover expert costs, the playing field is neither level nor fair, and children are denied a free appropriate public education and other fundamental IDEA rights.

  • Hiring qualified medical, technical, and other expert witnesses can cost many thousands of dollars.  Few parents can afford this high cost, putting due process out of reach for most parents, who already struggle to afford what their children with disabilities need.
  • School districts use tax dollars to pay for psychologists and other paid experts.  Parents have fewer resources and yet must bear a greater financial burden. Approximately 36% of children with disabilities live in families earning less than $25,000 a year; over 2/3 earn less than $50,000 a year.
  • Congress intended for parents to recover their expert witness fees in the Handicapped Children’s Protection Act of 1986.  Allowing parents to recoup their expert fees simply restores Congress’ original intent.
  • If due process is not affordable, the IEP process becomes even more one-sided and unfair.  School personnel control the IEP process and often vastly outnumber parents.  When the right to due process is meaningful, it helps ensure that school districts provide an appropriate education to children with disabilities.
  • Most parents turn to due process and litigation only as a last resort.  In 2003, the GAO reported that there were only 5 hearings per 10,000 special education students.  But when parents are forced into due process, they should be able to afford expert witnesses, without which, winning a special education case is virtually impossible.
  • For example, a Pennsylvania a mother was forced to go to due process to implement the Independent Educational Evaluation recommendations for her child with severe dyslexia and a written expression disorder.  She had to borrow $1,400 to pay the evaluator to testify, and for two days of cross-examination by the school district.  The parent prevailed and the child received the reading instruction he needed. Before the Supreme Court’s Murphy decision, the mother could recover her expert fees; after Murphy, she would not.


INSTRUCTIONS FOR CALLING YOUR CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVE ON THURSDAY, JULY 9, 2009.

On Thursday, July 9, 2009, please call your Congressional Representatives and ask him/her to cosponsor H.R. 2740, the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act.  Ask friends, colleagues, clients, and family members to call too.  It will only take a few minutes.

Basic Instructions: Dial 202-224-3121 (TTY 202-225-1904). This is Congress’ main switchboard. Ask for your Congressperson’s office.   When you are connected, it helps to ask for the Aide who handles education or disability.  If you get voicemail, please let a message.  Tell them you are a constituent and would like the Congressperson to co-sponsor H.R. 2740, the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act.   Use some of the talking points above.

You can also find direct dial numbers for your Representative, including local numbers (if long-distance is too costly), on your Representative’s webpage at http://www.house.gov. We prefer that you call the Washington, D.C. number if you can.

How to Find Out Who Your Congressional Representative is:  If you do not know who your Congressional Representative is, go to http://www.house.gov and put your zip code into the box in the upper left corner.   (You usually only need your five digit zip code.)

EVEN IF YOU ALREADY SIGNED COPAA’s PETITION, IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO CALL CONGRESS DIRECTLY ON JULY 9. We use the petition to show the breadth of support for the bill and will send it to the Congressional leadership, but you need to call your individual Congressional Representative’s office directly on July 9.

PLEASE CALL INSTEAD OF USING EMAIL.  Many calls will attract attention to our cause, and Congress needs to hear from us.  But if it is impossible for you to call, then please email through http://www.house.gov/writerep If you cannot call or use TTY because of a disability or other reason, we encourage you to contact Congress via email.  But if it is possible for you to use the telephone or TTY, please make a call.  Calls get more attention.

Please make a phone call on July 9, even if you’ve called or written Congress before.  If you can’t call on July 9, it’s okay to call afterwards.

SPANISH LANGUAGE INFORMATION.   (EN ESPAÑOL)

El jueves 9 de julio, llame por favor a su representante del Congreso, 202-224-3121 (TTY: (202-225-1904).  Pida que el congreso pase el acta de restauración de la imparcialidad de IDEA, H.R. 2740. Lea aqui en Español sobre los derechos de los padres a recuperar el costo de testigos expertos:
http://www.copaa.org/pdf/MSSpanish.pdf


WANT MORE DETAILED INFORMATION?

Download COPAA’s complete brochure on the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act with full talking points, http://www.copaa.org/pdf/MurphyBrochure.pdf

You can read H.R. 2740 here: http://www.copaa.org/publicpolicy/HR2740bill.php

The list of more than 200 disability organizations and over 2,100 individuals and others who have urged Congress to support H.R. 2740 will soon be posted on COPAA’s webpage, http://www.copaa.org.

There is also a Spanish language brochure, http://www.copaa.org/pdf/MSSpanish.pdf

For more information about H.R. 2740 and this alert, please contact COPAA at protectidea@copaa.org

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