Yesterday the Supreme Court issued a 6-2 ruling in Schaffer v. Weast (pdf) an important special education case focusing on who bears the burden of persuasion in hearings about special education services.

Though it’s being played in the press as a big victory for school districts at the expense of parents*, in fact it’s not a little guy against the big guy sort of thing but rather a fair decision because the court held that it is the plaintiffs in such cases, whether parents or a school district, who bear the burden. That’s a sensible standard.

In practice, however, it is more often than not parents bringing these actions but as the court noted this law gives parents a variety of substantive and procedural rights so although the school districts may have access to greater resources and knowledge in these cases, parents are not without recourse.

IDEA is a vitally important law and parents of children with special needs do need protections and exceptional rights but balancing those against other legitimate interests (scarce resources, the need to run orderly schools and serve a variety of students etc…) necessitate hard choices.

Schaffer v. Weast will help ensure that this tough balancing is in fact closer to being in balance.

NYT’s Greenhouse here, Washington Post’s Lane here. Background on IDEA here.

*Sloppy editing: When this post first went up this sentence was not clear because “parents” and “school districts” were flipped during editing. Sorry for any confusion.

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