Stephen Jeffers is a young child with autism. Two years ago,
his parents placed him in The Early School, a private special education
school that provides intensive one-on-one Applied Behavioral Analysis
(ABA) therapy to youngsters with autism.
Stephen made substantial progress at The Early School so his parents
requested reimbursement for his special education program at the private
The school district refused to provide any reimbursement and offered
to place Stephen into the public school's special education class.
Stephen's parents requested a special education due process hearing
to resolve this dispute.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires public
schools to provide a free, appropriate education to qualifying students
with disabilities. If there is a disagreement between parents and
their school district, either party may request a special education
due process hearing.
Due Process: Stephen Jeffers v. School Board, you will
see how a case is prepared and presented by both sides.
The procedure may remind you of a courtroom - and it should. In many
states, due process hearings are quite formal. Each state has specific
regulations that govern the procedure to request a special education
due process hearing and the appointment of hearing officers.
this story begins, the school board attorney just learned about the
parents' request for a due process hearing. As the school board attorney
(played by attorney Kathleen Mehfoud) discusses the case with her
assistant (paralegal Lori Battin), you will see how she begins to
prepare her case.
are very specific rules that must be followed in due process hearings.
parents' case was nearly dismissed because they misunderstood the
legal requirements for exchange of documents and witness lists.
Hearing Officer presides over the procedure, listens to all testimony,
weighs the evidence and makes decisions. Generally, it is not the
Hearing Officer's responsibility to assist either party.
After hearing from both sides, the hearing officer (played by Darrel
Tillar Mason) gave the parents a 30 day continuance to prepare their
case -- over the objections of school board counsel.
for an Attorney
Mr. and Ms. Jeffers began to search for an attorney who can represent
them - not an easy task. After a telephone call to Pete Wright
about their situation, they decide to meet with him.
for a Due Process Hearing
their meeting with Pete and Pam Wright, Pete discusses strategies
and the issues of their case. He gives the parents a list of things
to learn and do before the due process hearing resumes.
As Pete tells Mr. and Ms. Jeffers, "The key to a successful outcome
is preparation, preparation, preparation."
Education Due Process Hearing Resumes
The School Board Presents Its Case
witnesses testify for the school board, including the special education
teacher, the occupational therapist who has worked with Stephen, and
the director of special education.
Issues raised by the school board include:
private school does not provide specific related services that Stephen
The lack of "group experiences" in the private special education
school prevents Stephen from learning from his non-disabled peers.
* Benefits of the public school program as evidenced by progress made
by other students who have similar disabilities.
Parents Present Their Case
who testify include the child psychologist who evaluated Stephen and observed
his program at The Early School, the program specialist who supervises
Stephen's educational program and therapists, the principal of The Early
School, and Stephen's mother.
Issues raised by the parents include:
The public school teachers and service providers are overburdened and
cannot meet Stephen's needs.
Stephen requires intensive one-on-one instruction to make progress.
* The public school program will damage Stephen because it does not meet
* Stephen's behaviors are too severe and too unusual to be handled in
a group classroom setting.
mother is the last witness to testify.
Ms. Jeffers testifies about the family's response when they learned that
Stephen has autism, describes Stephen's program at the Early School and
her observations of the public school program. She describes Stephen's
progress, goals, and shares her fears that if Stephen has to leave The
Early School before he is ready, he will regress and lose the gains he
has made over the past two years.
Matters, Closing Arguments, Briefs
the final witness testifies, the hearing officer usually discusses procedural
matters. Each party may have an opportunity to make closing comments,
oral or written, in the form of a legal brief. Each side will summarize
the case and explain how the evidence makes it the duty of the hearing
officer to decide in their favor.
arguments, or in lieu of these arguments, the hearing officer may request
that each party prepare written "Findings of Fact and Conclusions
of Law." The briefing schedule may depend on when the Court Reporter
is able to complete the written transcripts.
For purposes of brevity, many scenes, witness testimony, objections by
attorneys, legal arguments, and rulings by the hearing officer were not
included in this film.
on the Case
Surviving Due Process: Stephen Jeffers v.
School Board is based on an actual case. The parents prevailed at Due Process, lost at the U.S. District Court, and prevailed on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
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D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright.
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