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What is an impartial due process hearing under IDEA?

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The federal regulations for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) includes many provisions to protect the rights of parents and their child with a disability while also giving families and school systems means by which to resolve disputes. These rights are known as procedural safeguards. Parents have specific rights under this law to an impartial due process hearing under 34 CFR &300.511.

In addition to requesting mediation and filing a state complaint, parents and school districts have the right to request an impartial hearing if no resolution to the complaint has occurred. Whenever a due process hearing request is filed, you or the school district involved in the dispute must have an opportunity for an impartial due process hearing which have been discussed in previous articles.

As discussed in previous articles, a request for a due process hearing may be made regarding any proposal or refusal of the school district to initiate or change the identification of, evaluation of, educational placement of, or provision of free, appropriate public education (FAPE) to your child. If a due process hearing is required, the hearing is conducted by the Department of Education of your state through an impartial hearing officer. Florida has a “one tier” due process system in which the state department of education is responsible for convening due process hearings so appeals from a due process hearing go directly to a federal district or state circuit court.

Minimum requirements for an impartial hearing officer include the following:
1. Must not be an employee of the SEA or the school district that is involved in the education or care of the student. However, a person is not an employee of the agency solely because he/she is paid by the agency to serve as a hearing officer;
2. Must not have a personal or professional interest that conflicts with the hearing officer’s objectivity in the hearing;
3.Must be knowledgeable and understand the provisions of the IDEA, and federal and State regulations pertaining to the IDEA, and legal interpretations of the IDEA by federal and State courts; and
4.Must have the knowledge and ability to conduct hearings, and to make and write decisions, consistent with appropriate, standard legal practice.

The subject matter of a due process hearing is limited to only those issues which were addressed in the due process hearing request unless both parties agree to allow additional concerns. The timeline for requesting an impartial due process hearing on a specific request must be within two years of the date you or the school district knew or should have known about the issue addressed in the due process hearing request.

The exceptions to this two year timeline exist only if you could not file a due process request because: 1) the school district specifically misrepresented that it had resolved the problem ro issue that you are raising in your due process hearing request OR the school district withheld information from you that it was required to provide under Part B of the IDEA.

Your rights will be discussed in the next article.

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