To the Editor:
I was disappointed in your summation of Arlington Central School District v. Murphy, a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court (“Court to Weigh Expert Fees in IDEA Cases,” Jan. 18, 2006). Unfortunately, your report mischaracterizes the case and diverts attention from the true issues at hand, leading readers to draw faulty and harmful conclusions.
The question for the Supreme Court is how the statutory term “costs” is defined. It is not whether lawyers’ fees “can be defined to include the costs of employing experts, such as educational consultants who attend [individualized education program] meetings with parents, help place students, or serve as witnesses in legal proceedings.” Attorneys’ fees are for attorneys, a premise no one disputes.
While Education Week’s apparent misunderstanding is excusable, we expect more of Perry A. Zirkel, a professor of education law and a state hearing officer in Pennsylvania for special education disputes. For someone of his position to assert that the “most common category in special education litigation is attorneys’ fees” is disingenuous. A thorough reading of special-education-law reports proves such a conclusion is without merit (not discounting current regulations that require prevailing parties to file fee applications in the U.S. District Court to recover fees and costs).
Granted, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is complex and expensive. But to imply that this is the result of some profiteering on the part of special education experts is inexcusable and insulting to the countless numbers of professionals who work tirelessly in defense of these children.
These cases are about children, not about “transaction costs,” as Mr. Zirkel seems to believe. In fact, as David C. Vladeck, who is representing Pearl and Theodore Murphy in the case, points out, it is the complexity of the IDEA that makes the advice of experts so pivotal for parents forced to seek out their procedural safeguards to secure appropriate educational services for their children.
I encourage Education Week to further its research and present its readers with a more-comprehensive discussion of the issues and implications of this case. Our children deserve nothing less.
Maura A. Collinsgru
Parent Information Center
of New Jersey Inc.