DC APPLESEED C E N T E R
Piper Rudnick LLP
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 11, 2003
|Contacts: Sheldon Krantz
Fixing Special Education in the District
Analysis by Independent Organizations Identifies Key Reforms for
Offer to Partner with DCPS to Be Accepted
Washington, D. C. - A report to be released tomorrow
makes important recommendations for reducing the number and cost of
disputes between parents of special education students and the District
of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). The reduced costs will allow funding
to be redirected to services in the classroom. The report, A Time for
Action: The Need to Repair the System for Resolving Special Education
Disputes in the District of Columbia, is a joint undertaking of the DC
Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and Piper Rudnick LLP.
The District currently leads the nation in the percentage
of special education complaints and hearings. Costs related to these
disputes equal about $13 million a year, the report concludes, and great
inefficiencies in responding to parents' legitimate demands mean that
$137 million -- over half the District's special education budget --
goes to fund private school tuitions for children many of whose needs
could be met more efficiently and cost-effectively in their local public
Unlike most other jurisdictions, which use alternative
dispute resolution techniques such as mediation to make disputes less
adversarial, less time-consuming and, therefore, less costly, disputes
both large and small between parents and DCPS go through a protracted
hearing process that wastes money and fosters a climate of distrust
between parents and DCPS personnel. Recent efforts by DCPS to improve
special education services have been hampered by the enormous time and
expense devoted to processing the excessive numbers of disputes between
parents and DCPS.
To help resolve this problem, DC Appleseed and Piper
Rudnick undertook a study of the DCPS special education dispute
resolution system with the full support and cooperation of DCPS. The
14month study involved more than 100 interviews with parents, DCPS
personnel, and attorneys involved in the dispute resolution process; a
review of relevant legislation and literature; an analysis of practices
in other jurisdictions; and a review of relevant data.
The report offers five categories of recommendations:
- Clarifying lines of authority for
special education responsibilities and making DCPS personnel accountable
for their assignments.
- Developing effective procedures and
communicating those procedures to parents in order to reduce mistrust and hostility between parents and
- Acknowledging that attorneys'
manipulation of the system can best be addressed by improving services and procedures rather than blaming
- Taking immediate steps to resolve
special education disputes as early as possible.
- Improving the administration of due
The executive summary provides further details on these
recommendations and can be viewed at www.dcappleseed.org/news.htm.
During the course of the study, it became clear that the
lack of quality special education services is the primary cause of the
problem. "The first step absolutely must be ensuring that each
local school has adequate assessment and placement services
available," said Sheldon Krantz, Pro Bono Partner at Piper Rudnick.
"Until these fundamental services are in place, no reform of the
special education system can be completely successful. Implementing
these changes rests in the hands of the educational professionals at
DCPS and the funding authority. However, we have also identified the
administrative and legal glitches that divert funds and energy from
meeting the children's educational needs. It's in this area that we can,
and are offering to, help."
DC Appleseed and Piper Rudnick look forward to working
with DCPS to implement their recommendations. This includes helping with
developing early dispute resolution models through pilot programs at
selected schools; establishing an independent mediator and facilitator
program; and implementing a system that ensures that Hearing Officer
Decisions and Court Orders are complied with.
"Too many parents in the District see retaining
legal counsel and requesting a formal hearing as their only option to
obtain appropriate services for their children," said Walter Smith,
Executive Director of DC Appleseed. "We believe that we can help
implement reform that will change that culture and create a more
responsive system, one that resolves disputes earlier and eliminates the
need for a due process hearing in most cases."
Neither DC Appleseed nor Piper Rudnick will receive any
funds from DCPS or any other city agency for their work on this project.
DC Appleseed operates with support from independent donors and
foundations, and Piper Rudnick is participating on a pro bono basis.
Piper Rudnick lawyers devoted more than 2,000 pro bono hours to the
project - a value of approximately $700,000. In addition to DC Appleseed
and Piper Rudnick, the project team included participants from the
Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, Georgetown Law Center
and Children's Medical Center, and the Center for Negotiations and
Conflict Management at the University of Baltimore.
About DC Appleseed
The DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Inc. is an
independent nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to making the
District of Columbia and the National Capital Area a better place to
live and work. With the help of volunteer professionals and community
leaders, DC Appleseed researches and analyzes serious local issues,
develops and publishes recommendations for systemic reform, and
advocates for appropriate solutions. An effective voice for the public
interest, DC Appleseed has successfully addressed a wide range of issues
from developing a workable system of governance for the public schools, to
improving the District's stormwater management.
About Piper Rudnick
Piper Rudnick is a business law firm of over 925 lawyers
with offices in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Edison, Las Vegas,
Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Reston, Tampa, and Washington.
Based on the 28 highlyranked lawyers in the firm, Piper Rudnick was
ranked 15th in the nation in spring 2003 by Chambers USA: America's
Leading Business Lawyers 2003-2004. We bring together a cross-section of
practice areas, including nationally known Litigation and Government
Affairs practices, one of the nation's largest Real Estate groups, a diverse Business and Technology practice and a prominent