Students who have been diagnosed with disabilities and require special education and related services have specific rights to a free, appropriate, public education, otherwise known as “FAPE.” These rights are guaranteed by federal and state law.
If there is a disagreement between a student’s parents and the school district concerning the education of a student with a disability, a neutral third party is usually asked to assist in resolving the disagreement. In the State of California, this is done by the Special Education Division of the Office of Administrative Hearing (OAH), which hears these types of due process disputes.
The OAH was created by the California Legislature in 1945. It provides independent Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) to conduct hearings for over 1,500 state and local government agencies. The ALJ is a supposed to be a neutral fact-finder, very much like a judge in a court of law. The Office of Administrative Hearings requires that its ALJs have been in practice for at least five years before being appointed. Usually an ALJ has more than 10 years of practical experience as an attorney.
As a general rule, the ALJ presides over hearings in the same way that a judge does in a civil court trial (unless local agency rules say differently) but with less formality. Special Education hearings are generally closed to the public, and each party has the opportunity to make a statement, call witnesses, and offer other relevant evidence. After all the information is submitted, the parties are permitted to make closing arguments, orally or in writing. Typically the ALJ will prepare and announce a detailed written decision within 30 days of the hearing.
The OAH provides alternative dispute resolution services in addition to deciding disputes.
The Special Education Division of the Office of Administrative Hearings handles a variety of special education disputes between school districts and families who have children with disabilities. If you would like to read some of OAH’s decisions and orders, you can visit their website at: www.oah.dgs.ca.gov.
Questions about who can make educational decisions for your special needs child? For more than 10 years, ADAMS ESQ has represented hundreds of special needs children throughout California and Nevada.
Ms. Adams’ and her experienced staff represent the interests of children from the ages of 3 through 22 who qualify or should qualify for special education and related services provided by their local school districts. Contact ADAMS ESQ today to get answers to your questions. They can be reached at 1-800-785-6713 or firstname.lastname@example.org.