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Watchdog Agency Suggests Improvements for Due Process Procedures

The Education Department needs to do a better job tracking how quickly due process hearings are resolved, and should improve how it monitors parental involvement data from states, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a watchdog agency of Congress. 

The report, released Sept. 24, notes that due process hearings overall are on the decline, due mainly to fewer hearings in Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and New York. Lehigh University Professor Perry Zirkel came to similar conclusions in a paper that came out in May. Outside of those jurisdictions and a few others (California, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania), due process hearings are infrequent. 

In 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act expanded the availability of alternative dispute-resolution methods, such as mediation, and state special education officials have said that such programs were important, though parents were not always aware that alternatives exist. 

The agency said that the Education Department requires states to report whether due process hearings are resolved in 45 days, or if they need to be extended. However, states are not required to report how much extra time that extensions add to the process. In 2011-12, the GAO found, 48 percent of due process hearings were resolved after an extension. 

Also, the agency said, the department collects parent-involvement data from states, but because states use different instruments to collect that information, the statistics are not comparable across states. The Education Department needs to modify its policies to collect better data on both of those issues, the report concludes.

In its response, the department said it proposes conducting due process timeline followups with states that have 10 or more due process hearings (In 2011-12, that was only 12 states) where 75 percent of those hearings were made under an extended timeline.In addition, the department said that its current methods of collecting parental involvement information is sufficient. "We are reluctant at this time to impose an additional data burden that we believe to be of limited value and benefit," wrote Michael K. Yudin, the acting assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services. 

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