School & District Management

Parents Prevail in Long-Running Suit

By Christina A. Samuels — February 24, 2009 1 min read

A few months after I started this blog, I came across the news of a due-process hearing in a small district in Michigan. What caught my attention was that the father of the student at the center of the case was also a school board member of the district he was suing. Also, the 150-student district, with just one K-12 school, had budgeted an eye-popping $250,000 for the hearing, which dragged on for months. (See here and here.)

Earlier this month, the issue was finally resolved, in favor of the parents. The 142-page decision said that the Northport School District failed to provide a free, appropriate public education for the son of Alan and Patti Woods, and that he should have 768 hours in compensatory education.

Alan Woods pointed me in the direction of the ruling, which is buried deep on the Michigan Department of Education office of administrative law website. If you’re really interested, click on “Special Education Cases” on the left, then look under Northport public schools. Both documents there relate to this case, though the Woods’ names have been redacted.

Needless to say, the Woods are gratified about the outcome of the case, though the local newspaper says the case lasted 32 days, generated a 1,000-page transcript, and cost both sides hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

This case is so out of the ordinary as due-process hearings go that I’m not sure if there are many specific lessons to be learned, other than the obvious ones: Neither side should lie. Each side should listen to the other. Both sides must work hard to make sure that communication doesn’t break down.

And yet, I wonder how often these kinds of problems occur and never go to due process. I’m working on an article now that requires me to interview several parents. In many cases, these parents are telling me they feel frustrated and stymied by school officials. And I’m sure if I were interviewing spec ed teachers, they could share their own stories about difficulties with parents.

How can this be made better? Is the system just too adversarial from the start?

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.