The Massachusetts House is considering a bill (H.487) that would help to level the playing field between school districts and parents when dealing with special education disputes. As a result of a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Buckhannon), parents can only be reimbursed attorney's fees if they fully litigate a case and get a decision in their favor. If they settle with the school district prior to a hearing, they are not entitled to attorney's fees. This creates a barrier for low and middle income families, creates an improper incentive for parents not to settle, and creates an improper incentive for school districts not to deal fairly with parents who the school knows will not be able to litigate. H.487 would allow attorney's fees to be reimbursed if the two sides settle in favor of the parents prior to a hearing. Please call your state representative as soon as possible to express your support for H.487. If you do not know who your state representative is, you can find out by going to this web site:
I attended the annual COPAA conference March 11 - March 14, 2010 in St. Louis. It was fantastic. This was a great use of time from beginning to end. It's always exciting to be with other practitioners, but when you combine that with the opportunity to learn from so many experienced lawyers, I felt like a little child in a toy store all weekend.
The conference actually started on Saturday, but for two days prior, COPAA held pre-conference trainings. This year I decided to concentrate my training time on expert witnesses. Thursday's class was entitled "Selecting, Preparing, and Paying for Experts." Friday's class was entitled "Examining and Cross-Examining Experts."
On Saturday morning, I attended a presentation by Joseph Ryan, Ph.D., who is a professor at Clemson University. Dr. Ryan gave a presentation entitled "Reducing Restraint and Seclusion in Schools." This session was particularly interesting for me, because of a case dealing with isolation that I am currently working on in New Hampshire.
The only disappointment I had all weekend was that one session that I was particularly looking forward to was canceled. The session that I was hoping to attend was entitled "Litigating Injuries of Children with a Disability and Assessing Damages." Instead, I attended a couple of sessions having to do with law office management.
Saturday night I attended a very nice reception for all of the attorneys and advocates in attendance. I was able to talk with several advocates at the reception about many different special education issues. It's a lot of fun to "talk shop" so in depth with so many people.
On the last day of the conference, I attended two sessions prior to departing. The first session was entitled "Neuropsychology and the Special Needs Assessment." The second session was entitled "Transition: Is There a Higher FAPE Standard?"
As much fun as the conference was, I'm afraid that my trip home was a complete nightmare. The flight from St. Louis to Chicago went fine. In Chicago, though, the attendant at the gate for my Boston flight made an announcement that there was some sort of mishap at Logan involving an Air France jet, and that as a result, several runway lights were out. Therefore, there would be a delay in our flight. Our flight did leave about an hour late, but about an hour from Boston the pilot came on the loudspeaker and said that he had some news for us which was not good. This is never a good sign. He said that because the runway lights were still out they would need to use across runway to land. However, because of the horrible storm in Boston, he did not feel safe landing in that direction, so he was diverting the plane to JFK airport in New York. We ended up spending the entire night inside the terminal at JFK. United finally put us on a flight to Boston at 7 AM Monday morning. It felt soooooo good t
Obama Administration to Announce Crackdown on Civil Rights Infractions In School Districts and Universities Systems
In the News: Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, will announce today that the Department of Education will start cracking down on civil rights infractions in school systems and university systems. This is intended as a "stick" to complement the "carrot" that is already in existence with the Race to the Top program, which rewards schools for making reforms. In extreme cases of civil rights infractions, the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights will litigate or withhold federal funding. For more information, refer to today's article in the Wall Street Journal (http://tinyurl.com/yefqzst).
I am looking forward to attending the COPAA Conference March 11 - 14 in St. Louis. COPAA stands for the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates. It is a wonderful organization dedicated to the advocacy and representation of children with special needs. I attended last year's conference in Washington D.C., and found it to be a great opportunity to exchange ideas with other attorneys and advocates. Follow me on Twitter at this year's conference (jbaronlaw), or just look to the right on this page for the latest Twitter update.
James M. Baron, Esq., M.Ed.