Talking Ed: SMU Experts Connecting Science and Practice
Bite for Bite

Schaffer vs. Weast

Maurice Dyson teaches education law at SMU in Dallas and once worked in the Office of Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education where he was responsible for overseeing special education programs. We asked him about the case of Schaffer vs. Weast and its potential impact on American education:

You think the burden of proof should rest with the school districts. Why?

Dyson: “The plaintiffs in Schaffer are very much the exception to the rule as savvy parents who know how the system works. It takes a considerable amount of disposable resources to produce evidence in an Individual Education Plan (IEP) dispute and present a sophisticated case. The system is more accessible for parents to respond, critique and successfully rebut assertions in the district’s case, rather than having to present a case on their own first if they have the burden of proof.”

What are the potential problems in terms of time and resources if school districts have to comply with a myriad of requests from parents over an IEP?

Dyson: “New amendments to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) now allow for the award of attorney fees, so there is a disincentive to bring meritless and potentially weak challenges since parents may be called upon to foot the legal bill for the prevailing school district if they are unsuccessful.”

How do you think the High Court will rule?

Dyson: “If the Supreme Court rules that parents have the burden, we can expect a one-sided outcome in favor of districts in nearly all cases, placing the promise of the IDEA further out of the reach of poor and minority families who often find their children the most underserved by school districts.”