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Surviving Due Process: Stephen Jeffers v. School Board
The Story

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Surviving Due Process: When Parents & the School Board Disagree - Stephen Jeffers v. School Board - produced by Harbor House Law Press, Inc.Background

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 school.

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.

In Surviving 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.
School board attorney Kathleen Mehfoud and paralegal Lori Battin prepare the school board's case

hen 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.


Stephen's parents ask the hearing officer not to dismiss their case There are very specific rules that must be followed in due process hearings. The parents' case was nearly dismissed because they misunderstood the legal requirements for exchange of documents and witness lists.

The 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.

Pete and Pam Wright meet with parentsSearching 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.

Preparing for a Due Process Hearing

Mr. and Ms. Jeffers meet with Pete WrightDuring 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."

Special Education Due Process Hearing Resumes

The School Board Presents Its Case

Mary Hart, special education teacher Several 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:

* The private school does not provide specific related services that Stephen needs.

* 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.

The Parents Present Their Case

Witnesses 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 his needs.

* Stephen's behaviors are too severe and too unusual to be handled in a group classroom setting.

Stephen's 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.

Procedural Matters, Closing Arguments, Briefs

After 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.

After oral 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.

Note: 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.

Updates 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.

More About Surviving Due Process
Read the Story
Meet the Cast
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