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National Council on Disability Stement on Supreme Court Arlington Central School District Case

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

NCD #06-507
April 19, 2006 

WASHINGTON—National Council on Disability (NCD) chairperson Lex Frieden released the following statement regarding today’s U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments in Arlington Central School District v. Murphy (No. 05-18), a special education case about the award of fees for the use of experts at special education due process hearings.

The Arlington school district argues that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal special education law, does not authorize the award of fees for experts, because the law makes no explicit reference to them. The Murphys (parents) contend that since IDEA states that attorneys’ fees may be awarded to parents as part of the costs of the dispute, such fees are not the only possible costs that can be awarded. The Murphys also state that it is nearly impossible for parents to win cases under the IDEA unless they have experts on their side, and that only the possibility of getting back some of their expenses for such help would allow parents to challenge school districts.

NCD ( is concerned that the Supreme Court’s ultimate decision in Murphy could potentially harm 6.5 million children and youth with disabilities. Requiring parents to shoulder the financial burden of expert fees at hearings would place parents at a tremendous disadvantage and many may forego the services of experts because of the costs involved. Too many parents already have difficulty navigating the IDEA maze from identification and evaluation of their children through hearings and court actions.

If parents believe, as the Murphys did, that the school district has failed to provide the free appropriate public education mandated by law, their only recourse is to pursue due process. At these hearings, school districts have their own expert witnesses, as well as lawyers. Parents are often unable to afford experts for due process hearings. In fact, many parents of children with disabilities live in difficult financial circumstances.

A decision supporting the parents in this case will not lead to a watershed of parent complaints, hearings, or court cases. Few parents even request due process hearings, and the Government Accountability Office reports that there are only 5 due process hearings per 10,000 students who receive special education (See GAO 03-897, 2003). In addition, a 2003 U.S. Department of Education study found that 94 percent of districts had no disputes that resulted in the need for a hearing.

Recent NCD information regarding IDEA issues includes the following: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Burden of Proof: On Parents or Schools? /publications/2005/burdenofproofLessons for All of Us: Protecting the Right to Education for Persons with Disabilities/publications/2005/lessonsImproving Educational Outcomes for Students with Disabilities,/publications/2004/educationoutcomesPeople with Disabilities and Postsecondary Education,/publications/2003/educationPeople with Disabilities on Tribal Lands: Education, Health Care, Vocational Rehabilitation, and Independent Living/publications/2003/tribal_landsSchool Vouchers and Students with Disabilities,/publications/2003/vouchersIndividuals with Disabilities Education Act Reauthorization: Where Do We Really Stand?/publications/2002/synthesis; and Back to School on Civil Rights/publications/2000/backtoschool

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