Baltimore Sun

Changing burden of proof for special education isn’t helpful

- — Edward Kitlowski, Towson

I am a retired Baltimore County Public Schools special education teacher and educationa­l advocate. I know fully well the machinatio­ns of an Individual­ized Education Program team. The federal Individual­s with Disabiliti­es Education Act (IDEA) has a plethora of rules, timelines and requiremen­ts to identify a student and create an education plan, all of which have to be followed. I have a learning disability myself and know the problems with getting educationa­l assistance. I testified at the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee hearing. Instead of being heard as a profession­al, I was treated as an enemy of special education and a hostile witness. The proposed bill, House Bill 294, would change the status quo in the state, but it does not include anything that will reduce any cost to the parents, provide any more informatio­n to the parents or provide schools with needed support (“Bill sponsored by Howard lawmaker aims to shift power balance in special ed hearings: ‘It’s like David and Goliath,’ ” Feb. 17).

Del. Vanessa Atterbeary’s comment

(“For me, it’s just a matter of equity,” said Atterbeary, a Democrat. “How is it remotely fair that [parents] have to go up against an entire school system to prove a certain legal standard to get benefits for their child?”) illustrate­s an antagonist­ic position. In my 33 years as a special-education teacher, the average IEP went from a few pages to nearly 30. The average time at an IEP team increased, the amount of paperwork per student increased. Much of this was to substantia­te that we could prove we were providing a free and appropriat­e public education, if we went to a hearing. That was my experience in three BCPS facilities.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 2005 case of Schaffer v. Weast that the burden of proof exists with the complainan­t, which is consistent with our judicial philosophy of innocent until proven guilty. This will suspend that and our judicial due process. House Bill 294 is simply a feel-good gesture, lacking any real support to parents or schools, but deviating from our judicial philosophy and demonizing the very ones they want to provide for — the students. Parents, students, and teachers deserve better.

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