ALBANY, N.Y. August 16, 2007 - Gov. Eliot Spitzer has signed legislation requiring school districts - and not parents - to bear the burden of proving the appropriateness of a special education classification, a move New York State United Teachers today hailed as "a major victory for parents and children."
NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi praised the governor for signing the bill, which will protect parents from having to bear the cost of expensive legal proceedings when they contest changes to a child's Individualized Education Program under special education law.
"We applaud the governor for standing up for parents, particularly those of limited financial means who cannot afford to hire an attorney to deal with their child's special education placement," Iannuzzi said. "This is a terrific day for parents and advocates for children."
For more than 30 years in New York State, school districts had the legal and financial burden of showing, in an impartial hearing, their classification of a child under special education law was correct. In 2005, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Schaffer v. Weast - a Maryland case - that the party requesting a hearing should bear the burden of proof. Because of the way special education laws are written, it is almost always the parent who must request the hearing.
"This corrects an injustice. It is unfair to put this burden on parents, especially those who do not have the financial means to hire an attorney and navigate the special education hearing process," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan B. Lubin, who thanked state Sen. Andrew Lanza, R-Staten Island, and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, D-Queens, for sponsoring the bill. "And, we applaud the governor for signing it."
NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira noted the 585,000-member union worked with a coalition of more than 30 organizations - including the New York State Association for Retarded Children; Parent to Parent of New York; New York State Independent Living Centers; Cerebral Palsy of New York State and Disability Advocates - to convince the Legislature and Governor to approve the bill.
"This is another example of how parents and teachers, working together, can form strong partnerships and accomplish great things for schoolchildren," Neira said. "Now, when there is a disagreement between school districts and parents on educating children with special needs, parents know they have a seat at the table and can advocate for their children without worry."
NYSUT represents more than 585,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.