Why would the attorneys single out Mr. Kelly? Because in his job hearing administrative legal disputes between parents and their local school districts, Kelly rarely if ever finds in favor of the parents, The Journal reports. (The story is available only to subscribers of WSJ.com, so I can't link to it.)
The article by Daniel Golden, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, uses Kelly's record as a front-and-center example of how the special education legal system sets up high barriers to parents of disabled children when there are disputes about what services a child needs to make progress in school. This issue has particular resonance for families of children with autism spectrum disorders. The rising number of diagnosed autism cases means more stresses on local school districts which need to provide a "free and appropriate education" for every student. It also means bigger challenges for those districts working to mainstream all kinds of disabled kids (including autistic kids) into regular education classrooms to both expose the students to typically developing children and (as The Journal points out) to save money.
New York's Mr. Kelly is a particular target of special-education parents' anger. A study by Pamela Steen, a Patchogue, N.Y., lawyer for parents, found that he granted full or partial relief to [school] districts in 60 of their 70 appeals, or 86 percent, in 2006 and 2007. ... Advocates for the disabled have complained to Gov. Eliot Spitzer. John Farago, a City University of New York law professor and a New York hearing officer, says Mr. Kelly is "rewriting the rule book" to challenge precedents that enabled parents to put children in private schools at public expense.
As if this weren't discouraging enough, the article reminds readers that recent actions at the federal level make a steep climb steeper for parents who decide to challenge a school district's decision on educational services. The Journal reports that in 2004, Congress amended the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to discourage "frivolous cases" by allowing school districts to recover legal fees from parents. And a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Schaffer v. Weast) put the burden of proof on parents to show that a school district was not providing an appropriate education if a dispute reached the courts. (A link to the Supreme court decision is here; it and other interesting court case links are also on the Autism Bulletin sidebar, under the heading "Recent Court Decisions.")
Given these impediments, it's no wonder that, as Golden reports, the number of special education hearings nationwide dropped by 31 percent in 2005-2006 compared to the previous year. And while one school district representative in this article asserts there are fewer disputes because educational services have improved, there's no evidence provided to back up that assertion.
* U.S. Supreme Court Affirms Parents' Rights In Case Involving Autistic Child
* A Tale from Scranton, Pa.: Classroom Teachers Need More Support If Inclusion Programs Are to Work