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Special Education Appeals in State or Federal Court

A woman with her daughter. A judge holding court. A judge about to make a decision.

You’ve fought hard to secure the special education services your child is entitled to receive—services that could put them on the path to their best future.

But the school system fought back. What happens when they turn you down?

You may go to a due process hearing, which is like a trial, with an Impartial Hearing Officer (IHO) who makes a decision on your child’s situation.

If the hearing officer rejects your request for more or different services, you may go to a review by state education officials and/or state or federal court to fight for your child.

Now you’re entering a new, complicated stage in your effort to get the fullest possible support for your child.

Special education lawyers focus on this kind of case and help families through the process.

Cuddy Law Firm has been helping children with special needs gain access to important services for over 20 years.

If you need to take your fight for your child’s educational opportunities to a higher level, talk to us.

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When Does a Special Education Case Go to Court?

After you’ve gone through all the available steps of appealing an adverse decision about your child’s special education services with local and state education systems, federal laws allow for taking the case to court.

In the case of federal court, this means filing a lawsuit in the United States District Court that covers the area where your child goes to school.

The most well-known national special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), calls for all children to receive a “Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). And it spells out how children with disabilities should have Individualized Education Programs (IEP) developed for them.

These provisions in federal law are what can place a dispute over special education in federal court.

But make sure you move swiftly. You generally have a short time frame from when a decision was rendered by local or state education officials to file your complaint in court.

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What Happens in a Special Education Case in Federal Court?

Once a case gets to federal court, the judge will review the record of the case, including a transcript of the due process hearing and all supporting documents.

You and the school system sometimes can ask to add new evidence to the record at this point. You’ll submit a brief arguing your case.

The judge likely won’t hold anything resembling a trial or hearing. They’ll review all the information in the record and make their decision.

The federal judge could either reject an earlier hearing officer’s decision, uphold it, or reject parts and accept parts.

If you and your family win your case, the judge may order the school system to provide missing services. The judge could order “compensatory education” to make up for lost time and educational progress.

If the federal district court’s decision doesn’t resolve your disagreement with school officials, special education cases can go to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, or even the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is very important to consult with an attorney on cases that go beyond the impartial hearing officer or administrative level. Cases in court are very complicated and lengthy, and families may get overwhelmed by the legal process.

Like so many aspects of parenting a child with special needs, this legal process can be a long journey.

But you can get support and guidance along the way as you aim to achieve the best result for your child and the knowledge that their needs are being met.

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