The Right to File for an Impartial Hearing
When parents disagree with the decision of an IEP team and seek a different placement or increased level of services, they have the right to file a due process complaint, also called an impartial hearing request, against the school district to seek an impartial hearing.
In a complaint, the parents must allege the denial of a free, appropriate public education and describe both the problem and the proposed resolution in detail. Parents may seek compensatory services, meaning “make-up” services or tutoring; a different placement; reimbursement for private school tuition or other private services obtained or other relief. Money damages are not available in an impartial hearing. While the hearing is pending, the child remains in his pendency placement, which is his or her current placement or, if challenged, the last-agreed on IEP.
The filing of a due process complaint begins the process of an impartial hearing, and it sets certain steps into play. First, the school district will appoint an impartial hearing officer from a rotational list of hearing officers certified by New York State. Then, within 10 days, the district may answer the complaint.
Within 15 days, the school district must hold a resolution session which gives both parties a chance to meet to resolve the complaint. If the resolution session is not successful, a hearing will begin that must be scheduled 15 days later (30 days after the complaint is filed). Hearings can last several days, but the process usually takes many months to complete. When the hearing is complete, the impartial hearing officer will issue a decision to grant or deny the relief. Either side may then appeal to a state-level review officer and then to state or federal court.
Impartial hearings represent a complicated, stressful and high-stakes process. Some parents may believe they can handle the experience alone, but there are many pitfalls in doing so. The knowledge and objectivity of an experienced attorney is invaluable in this process and can help you resolve the complaint or prevail in the hearing.