The U.S. Supreme Court last week refused to hear the appeal of a Minnesota family in a case about the burden of proof in legal disputes over special education.
The appeal came from the parent of a child with multiple disabilities who ended up in administrative proceedings over the child’s services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
At issue was whether the parent or the state of Minnesota would have the burden of proof in the proceedings. In a 2005 opinion known as Schaffer v. Weast, the Supreme Court held that where state law was silent on the issue, the burden of persuasion in special education cases lies with the party who brought the case. But the justices stopped short of deciding which rule would apply in states that assign the burden of proof in such proceedings by law, such as Minnesota, which places the burden on school districts in most instances.
In the Minnesota case, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, in St. Louis, ruled in February that notwithstanding the Minnesota law, the burden of proof in the case should be on the moving party, which was the family.
The justices on Oct. 20 denied without comment the family’s appeal of that ruling in M.M. v. Special School District No. 1 (Case No. 07-1559).
A version of this article appeared in the October 29, 2008 edition of Education Week