The full breakdown
What happens when you contact us?
Contacting a lawyer can be anxiety-inducing. You may not think you're ready to enter into a battle against your child's school, or maybe you don't want to be dragged into a courtroom. Maybe you're concerned about how long this will all take. Don't worry, we're here to guide you along every step of the way.
Before we meet
The first thing we'll need to know when you call or email is why you're contacting us. Most of the time, it's because you think your child isn't receiving the services they should be or isn't making the progress they're capable of.
We'll get on a phone call with you to talk generally, but ultimately, we need to be able to look at your child's records the same way a judge would, so we need to get the entire record packet. With your permission, we'll send a document to the District to try to get your child's entire educational record.
If this is a case about something else, like a suspension, we may be able to skip this process, but usually this is the first step.
The Record Review
When we get the records, we'll review each document to spot evidence of wrongdoing. We'll look at how often the student has been evaluated, whether the evaluations were comprehensive, whether there is evidence of progress, what kinds of services the District is provided, and much more.
We'll likely speak with you to get some additional information in case there is something that may be missing from the documents or maybe some recent developments that would not be a part of the record yet.
Ultimately, we make a determination about whether we think there is a strong case here.
Drafting the Documents
There are a number of documents that may be drafted at this point. We might need to put together a request for independent evaluations, we may jump right to putting together the impartial hearing request, or we may be preparing what is known as a Ten Day Letter, a notice we send to the District before your child is placed in a private program.
Before anything is sent out or filed on your behalf, you will have the opportunity to review it, confirm everything is accurate, and ask any questions you may have.
Next step is we get ready for the "hearing." A hearing is a sort-of mini-trial where we get to present our arguments about why the District did something wrong.
If we think there is a strong case, we'll meet with you to discuss what we saw, what we can do, and the next steps. We'll get any necessary paperwork signed and then we can begin to get started. This can be done over video call, telephone call, or in person.
At this point, we may get additional details from you that will help in our next step, drafting the impartial hearing request, otherwise known as the due process complaint.
We'll also discuss what we think we can do for your child. It can sometimes be compensatory services, new evaluations, a new school placement or a private placement. Sometimes, maybe the only relief you're looking for is something like faster transportation or a 1:1 paraprofessional, we can do those things as well.
Once everything is filed, we wait for a judge who is known as the "impartial hearing officer" or IHO, to get on the case. Depending on the circumstance, this can be as quick as 24 hours or as long as 6(!) months. We can usually tell you how long we'll think it will take early on in the process so you're prepared.
Once the judge is assigned, we'll have a prehearing conference (usually over the phone) where we explain to the judge the very basics of the case and what it is that we're looking for. We usually schedule a hearing date at this point, too. Parents normally don't take part in these prehearing conferences.
Before the actual hearing, we'll discuss with you whether we think you'll need to testify and if so, we'll prepare you and any other witnesses we may have, including independent evaluators.
Most judges (IHOs) allow witnesses to testify by a document known as an affidavit. An affidavit is a legal document where a witness is able to tell their whole story without having to be questioned by their lawyer. We interview you and put together the affidavit, then you review and confirm that all of the statements are accurate.
Most hearings are done over the phone and some are done over video conference. We wait for everyone to dial in and then the judge will usually put everyone "on the record." This means that a stenographer is recording everything that is said. It is important that only one person speaks at a time to make a clear record. The judge will have each person on the line introduce themselves. After this, you won't have to say anything else unless you are directly asked a question.
Next, usually both parties submit evidence into the record. This was probably done beforehand over email, but now the judge will read the name of each document submitted and the date, and it's possible both sides will fight over which documents should be allowed in and which ones should not.
Next, your attorney gives an opening statement. It's similar to the due process complaint we filed at the beginning of the case. It explains what the problem is, what we intend to show, and what we'll be asking for. Then, the representative from the district gives an opening statement. Often times, the district is not going to even fight. They know how terrible the system is just as much as we do, and if they feel like they can't defend the school's actions, they don't try. When this happens, the sole purpose of the hearing is to explain to the judge why they should order the exact relief we're asking for.
If the district is fighting, they will then give an opening statement. They can then call witnesses. We stay silent while the district is asking questions of their witnesses. Once they're done, then your attorney gets the chance to cross-examine, where they can ask questions of the witness to show that they either were lying, maybe were remembering wrong, or maybe didn't know enough to make some of the statements they made.
Once the district finishes with their witnesses, we get to submit our witnesses. After we have them testify (or submit their affidavit), the district gets to ask questions the same way that we were able to ask their witnesses questions.
Closing Briefs or Statements
When both sides finished presenting evidence and witnesses, it's time for closing statements. Sometimes, both sides will make a short speech right then and there and that would be it.
Other times, each side may ask to submit a closing "brief." This is a written statement which will point to all the various pieces of evidence and explain why the judge should rule in their favor.
Sometimes, a closing brief is preferable if the case was very long or relies on very specific arguments. Other times, we ask to do a closing brief to help the judge out since we are laying out all the arguments so it is easy for the judge to write their decision. If a closing brief is requested, it's normally 2-4 weeks of time to prepare the brief and submit it.
After the closing statements are made or the closing brief is submitted, the judge takes some time to write a decision. Even if the case was not contested and was very straightforward, it can sometimes take around 30 days for a judge to write their decision. They are usually lengthy and detailed.
Once we get a decision, we'll go over it together and we'll explain everything the judge ordered and anything the judge may not have ordered. If we disagree with something in the decision, we'll talk about how we can do an appeal to a higher judge.
We'll also begin trying to implement the judge's order. For example, the judge may have ordered 200 hours of tutoring. We will put you in touch with tutors who are willing to provide services from a judge's order and make sure the services begin. Or, the judge may have ordered a new IEP meeting, we'll help you get that scheduled and attend with you. No matter what the judge orders, we're going to help make sure you're able to utilize it before we close your case.
We'll also discuss whether we need to be ready for next year's case. Sometimes, one case is all you need. Maybe the District put your child in a new school and you love it, or maybe you just wanted some changes to the IEP and the judge ordered it. However, other times, we'll have to repeat the process each year to make sure the District is providing the right services.
That's it! It's a long process, but one that is constantly moving along.
That's the general process. Keep in mind that every case is different. Sometimes, there are steps that take place in between these steps. For example, we might need to have a mini-hearing known as an "IEE hearing" just to try to get independent evaluations before we even schedule our real hearing.
We will go over what will likely happen in your case after our initial record review, and we'll answer all your questions throughout the process. However, the first step is always contacting us so we can take a look at your individual circumstances and figure out the best plan of action!