On August 5, 2016, the California Office of Administrative Hearings, Special Education Division, released its fourth quarterly report detailing special education filing activity for 2015-2016. This report provides some statistical insight into the complex nature of special education disputes and litigation.
|Due Process Hearing Requests:||4,364|
|Fully Adjudicated Hearings:||111|
|Percentage of Cases with Hearing Held:||3%|
|Percentage of Cases Settled at Mediation:||61%|
|District Due Process Filing:||558|
|Student Due Process Filing:||3,806|
Based on the above statistics a vast majority of Due Process filings are settled before reaching a hearing decision. Indeed, only 3% of all due process filings are fully adjudicated. Most filings are initiated by the student. Also noteworthy, is the number of split decisions.
As with most types of litigation, special education due process filings are frequently resolved before a hearing. As these numbers detail, most cases are settled at mediation. Additionally, when a hearing is held, the student prevailed or a split decision was issued approximately 60% of the time.
For special education administrators, these numbers highlight the risks and expenses of an adjudicated hearing. When a student prevails or a decision is split, the local educational agency (LEA) is commonly left to pay the student’s attorney’s fees. In 2015-2016, approximately 83% of students were represented by counsel. This means that when an LEA stands before OAH in a special education dispute, they are most likely going to pay at least some of the student’s attorney’s fees.
Finally, these numbers highlight the importance of mediation. Although, 61% of cases reach agreement at mediation, that number could be higher. LEAs that come to mediation prepared with an offer and alternatives previously mapped out will use the time in mediation more efficiently and increase their opportunities to avoid an expensive hearing.