[ Your name, address
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The Honorable Richard Durbin
332 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
Fax 1 (202) 228-0400
Re: HJ Res. 2 (Joint Resolution 2) - Omnibus FundingDear Senator Durbin:
Sen. Amendment 1 - IDEA fees
We are very disappointed that you would support a cap on attorneys fees in special education cases. Parents have to fight to get anything that approaches an appropriate education for their disabled children-one which would allow them to make meaningful progress to becoming a contributing citizen to this nation. School Districts rarely comply with the law, and it is left to parents to enforce the law. The National Council on Disabilities found every State was out of compliance with IDEA, and no agency enforced the law. Only when parents request due process do schools start to comply.
Due process hearings are expensive. Few middle income parents can afford the attorney fees, but without an attorney, few parents will prevail. A recent study through 2002 in Illinois showed that most of the supposedly independent hearing officers have never ruled against a school district. (Most hearing officers were chosen from the ranks of schools.) Parents who are not represented by attorneys prevail in only 10-16% of due process cases. With an attorney to guide them through the complex laws and regulations, parents prevail 49% of the time. Clearly, access to legal assistance is necessary for parents in Illinois. The other problem is that attorneys from schools are well-paid and prolong proceedings knowing their chances with the hearing officers. In one reported decision arising out of Palatine, Illinois, the school district dragged on the proceedings through four levels of appeals, and lost on each one. They forced the parents to file a federal case to enforce the due process decision. Throughout the four appeals, they never argued that the school was providing an appropriate education, just that they could not be told what to do. The legal fees incurred by the parents would have bankrupted anyone.
Although the proposed fee cap would apply only to the District of Columbia thus far, it is incomprehensible how parents there could assure their children get an appropriate education without keys to the courthouse. I urge you to withdraw that amendment.