Administration Supports Montgomery Schools in Lawsuit
Supreme Court to Review Case Involving Special-Ed Options
Nick Anderson, Washington Post, June 28, 2005
For more articles like this
administration has sided with school systems in a special
education dispute between a disabled student's parents and the
Montgomery County public schools that is before the U.S. Supreme
The lawsuit centers on who has the burden of proof when a
student's special education plan is under challenge: the person
who objects to the plan, or the school officials who devised it.
At stake in the case are questions about individual student
rights and public school funding priorities.
In a brief filed Friday, U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement
urged the high court to uphold an appellate ruling when it
deliberates the case in its next term.
"Public officials, including public school officials, are
presumed to act in good faith compliance with their legal
obligations," Clement said in the brief. "Thus, where, as here,
a party alleges that those officials violated their legal
duties, the complaining party generally bears the burden of
The Bush administration's action is a shift from its
predecessor. Clement's brief mentions that the Clinton
administration held a different view. In August 2000, the
Justice Department filed a brief in federal appellate court that
supported the parents.
Now, "after careful review," Clement wrote, the federal
government has decided that the law does not put the burden of
proof on schools in such disputes.
In Schaffer v. Weast , the plaintiff is a former Montgomery
student named Brian Schaffer who doctors said has
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. His parents, Jocelyn
and Martin Schaffer, sought reimbursement for his private school
tuition when they became dissatisfied with the public schools'
special education options.
The lead defendant named in their suit is Jerry D. Weast, the
Montgomery school superintendent, who denied the reimbursement.
The Supreme Court agreed in February to take the case after the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, based in Richmond,
ruled that the parents were obligated to prove that the
individualized education program drawn up for Brian Schaffer by
the public school system was inadequate.
The Schaffers contended that Weast should have been required to
prove its adequacy.
An attorney for the plaintiffs, William H. Hurd of Richmond,
could not be reached yesterday for comment. An attorney for
advocates of disabled students, Ankur J. Goel of Washington, who
has filed a brief in support of the Schaffers, expressed
surprise at the Bush administration's departure from the
approach of the Clinton administration.
"There really hasn't been anything that's changed," Goel said.
"The Justice Department and the solicitor general got it right
the first time [in 2000]. What's at stake is making sure that
children with disabilities get the education they need."
The case is being watched closely nationwide by disabled-student
advocates and school and government officials.
In Virginia, the state attorney general has weighed in for the
parents; the state School Boards Association has filed a
rebuttal for the school system.
In another development, dueling briefs have emerged from
Virginia. In April, state Attorney General Judith W. Jagdmann
(R) filed a brief in favor of the Schaffers, for Virginia and
eight other states.
The attorneys general argued that putting the burden of proof on
school officials was a matter of "fundamental fairness" when
those officials control relevant educational data.
But the Virginia School Boards Association sided with Weast in a
brief filed Friday for itself and school board groups from five
other states. Jagdmann, the association contended, did not
consult with local school boards before weighing in.
back to the top ~
back to Breaking News
~ back to