Friday, November 18, 2005

NYT Editorial on Schaffer v. Weast

Today's New York Times contains an editorial critical of the Supreme Court's Monday decision in Schaffer. The crux of the argument:

The court's ruling ignores the clear advantages that school districts almost always have over parents who challenge their decisions. The districts have the money, and many have lawyers and rosters of experts on their payrolls. But many of the families cannot afford legal representation at all.

With less pressure to justify themselves, the schools can simply stand pat - even when their educational plans have proved disastrous for the disabled children in question. This was clearly not the outcome that Congress intended when it passed this landmark law, and deliberately expanded the rights of disabled children and their parents.

Look, I think Justice Ginsburg's dissent had the better of the argument in Schaffer, but the majority's decision to apply ordinary burden of proof rules is hardly surprising. And I don't think the allocation of the burden of proof will really make a difference in most cases -- a school district is risking a lot by"simply stand[ing] pat." All in all, I don't think Schaffer will make much of a difference unless the message school districts and parents start taking away from that decision is that the Court is cutting back IDEA rights. I basically agree with the more tempered analysis in the Times' news story on the case: "It may take years to assess fully the impact of the Supreme Court ruling on Monday on disputes between school districts and the parents of special education students, experts across the country have said."


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