Virginia parents have joined forces to file a class action lawsuit against the state’s Department of Education and Fairfax County Public Schools for historically ruling against children with disabilities in due process cases.
The lawsuit has been spearheaded by a non-profit established by Fairfax parents called Hear Our Voices. The group was established to advocate on behalf of Virginia children with disabilities and ensure that they receive proper education due to them under federal law.
The timing of the lawsuit coincides with many parents of students with disabilities seeking compensation for pandemic learning loss and services that were not provided during lengthy school closures. If during the pandemic, a school did not provide the education and services previously deemed appropriate for the student in their plan, the school is obligated to proactively reach out to families to provide compensation for individualized educational services to the child based on his or her individual needs.
Citing two decades of bias in favor of school districts, the lawsuit proves that students with disabilities have been poorly served since long before the pandemic. Many parents seek hearings when they have concerns or disagreements over the way their child’s free and public education is being administered. Virginia state code requires that the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) use “the impartial hearing officer system that is administered by the Supreme Court of Virginia” when the need for a hearing arises.
The non-profit analyzed documents that reveal the absolutely dismal rate in which hearings regarding the specialized education of Virginia children with disabilities work out in student’s favor:
Specifically, we have obtained nonpublic documents from the VDOE through our efforts under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that have revealed a public scandal. These documents have revealed that when parents in Virginia have brought actions under the IDEA to challenge public schools to provide a better education for their children, hearing officers appointed under state law have almost never ruled in favor of such parents. (emphasis added)
The frequency of favorable outcomes for students is virtually nonexistent; a mere 2% according to the data collected by Hear Our Voices:
Over the past twenty years in 1,391 due process cases brought in Virginia by parents under the IDEA to seek a better education for their disabled or special needs children, hearing officers have ruled in favor of parents in only twenty-five (25) cases representing less than two percent (2%) of the total number of cases brought by parents.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) protects the educational rights of American children with disabilities, requiring that school districts must provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities. Districts are required by IDEA to find and evaluate students who may need additional support and services and to provide each qualified student with an individualized education plan (IEP) that details the specialized instruction, related services, and accommodations the child requires.
For all children, a well-suited education is the key to future success. But, for children with disabilities, it is even more important that they are receiving the individualized education that is due to them under the law. Education freedom would ensure that families of students with disabilities who were being served poorly by the public school system could make a change with little financial burden to their families.
For decades, the system has failed Virginia families of students with disabilities. They deserve access to K-12 education savings accounts (ESA) so that they can direct their child’s education funding to schools and services that will meet their complex needs.