Federal legislation was introduced on March 17, 2011, that would allow parents to recover expert witness fees in due process hearings and litigation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The IDEA Fairness Restoration Act was introduced in the Senate (S 613) by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.). The legislation’s counterpart in the House of Representatives (HR 1208) was brought forth by Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Pete Sessions (R-Texas). If enacted, this legislation will restore the original intent of IDEA and make due process hearings more equitable and affordable for parents and children with disabilities.
For 35 years, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has required states to provide a free and appropriate public education to children with disabilities. But when schools provide an education so inferior that they fail their legal obligations, parents may seek an impartial hearing. Parents must have expert witnesses for these hearings. Expert witnesses can include psychologists, pediatricians and physicians, therapists, educational experts, inclusion experts, positive behavioral support experts, and others. Their testimony ensures that children with disabilities get the educational programs, accommodations, and supports they need.
But in 2006, the Supreme Court held in Arlington Central School District v. Murphy that parents could not recover their expert witness fees under the IDEA. Many low and middle income parents cannot afford to shoulder this expense. For them, the door to justice is barred. Approximately 36% of children with disabilities live in families earning less than $25,000 a year; more than 2/3 earn less than $50,000 a year. Parents of children with disabilities are also 67% more likely to be unemployed than parents of nondisabled children. They are also 50% more likely to have a high school education or less. The situation is made even worse because parents must bear the burden of proof in these hearings.
The IDEA Fairness Restoration Act will override the Murphy decision and restore Congress’ original intent. It will enable parents who prevail in due process hearings and litigation to recover their expert witness fees.
You Can Make a Difference
1. Complete the IDEA Survey
The IDEA National Survey Project was designed to gauge to what extent the rights of parents and children with disabilities are protected. Visit www.ideasurvey.org. The deadline to complete this survey is June 14, 2011.
2. Urge your senators and representatives to co-sponsor this legislation
Tell your senators and representatives to support the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act, which permits reimbursement for expert witness fees.
Contacting Your Legislators
Online: find a senator or representative in your state and click on their contact form to submit your letter. In your letter, identify yourself as a constituent and urge your senator/representative to “Please support the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act (S 613 / HR 1208).”
Phone: call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask for your senators’ and/or representative’s office. Once connected, ask to speak with an office aide who handles education issues. Identify yourself and tell the aide to “Please tell Senator/Representative (NAME) that I support the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act (S 613 / HR 1208).”