Lead Sponsor: Senator Jamie Eldridge
Summary: This bill reinstates parents’ due process rights that were available prior to 2001. The scales of justice are currently unbalanced, in favor of school districts, effectively creating a two-tier system that bars many low and middle-income families from access to special education rights and services. This bill would reinstate parents’ ability to recover attorney’s fees if parents prevail as a result of settlements in cases initiated to obtain essential special education services. In addition, the bill establishes that school districts have the burden of proof in special education cases, recognizing that districts have greater access to relevant information, resources, legal counsel, experts, and witnesses.
Why This Matters: This bill levels the playing field by encouraging prompt and fair settlement agreements, reducing litigation costs for parents and school districts, and ensuring that all families, regardless of income, have an opportunity to exercise essential due process rights.
What this Bill Would Do:
SECTION 1. Section 3 of chapter 71B of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2010 Official Edition, is hereby amended in the twelfth paragraph by inserting after the third sentence the following sentence:-
“The school committee shall have the burden of proof in any proceeding conducted pursuant to this section.”
SECTION 2. Said section 3 of said chapter 71B of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby further amended by inserting after the twelfth paragraph the following paragraph:-
“Parents, guardians, or persons with custody of a student who have either requested a hearing before the bureau of special education appeals seeking resolution of any dispute, or are parties to a proceeding initiated by a school committee at such bureau, shall be entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and related costs as a prevailing party if they achieve a favorable result in defense of the school committee’s action or if they obtain relief on a significant claim as a result of such request, or an appeal thereof, that effects a material alteration in the parties’ legal relationship, and is not merely de minimis, whether such relief is the result of a voluntary change in the school committee’s conduct, a settlement agreement, or a decision or order issued by a hearing officer or court.”
View the full text of the bill and track its history here.