NSBA: Early resolution of disputes serves students with disabilities

Parents of students with disabilities should try to resolve disputes about educational issues through a hearing process established by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) before filing a lawsuit, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) says in an amicus brief filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case, Payne v. Peninsula School District, involves an autistic student whose individualized education program, or IEP, included the use of a “safe room” to address some of his behavioral difficulties. Windy Payne, the child’s mother, accused a teacher at his school of mistreating her son by improperly utilizing this behavioral intervention method. Rather than first using the IDEA’s hearing process to resolve her dispute, Payne filed a federal lawsuit claiming the teacher’s use of the “safe room” caused her son psychological damage and violated his rights under the IDEA and the U.S. Constitution.

The case was previously heard in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, where the court ruled that Payne did not have the right to bring her claim to court because she had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies under IDEA. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit agreed, but now Payne’s appeal will be re-heard by the entire 9th Circuit on December 15, 2010.

“Autism is a complicated disability and all aspects of educating an autistic student should be addressed by a team of educators and the student’s parents through the IEP process,” said NSBA’s Executive Director Anne L. Bryant.