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Where Did All The Hearing Officers Go?

March 1, 2020

We know the impartial hearing process can be extremely stressful for parents. At Ratcliff Law, it is our goal to make the process as seamless as possible. While the process has always been slow due to inadequate payment policies, delays in docket management and local laws and policies that prevent expeditious resolution meetings and settlements, it has gotten significantly slower. The substantial delays have created a crisis for parents seeking a free, appropriate public education for their children. Parents are forced to pay out of pocket for months and, in some cases, well over a year, before matters are resolved and parents are reimbursed.

 

Currently, there is a backlog of nearly 10,000 open special education complaints filed against the DOE. 

 

What has exasperated an already slow process?

 

The number of cases in relation to the number of hearing officers accepting cases is shocking. In December 2019, there were only 5 hearing officers to take thousands of cases. One hearing officer had over 1,500 cases on his docket and another had close to 1,000. 

 

While at one time there were 68 hearing officers certified to hear cases in New York City, most are no longer accepting cases. The reasons for this are:

 

  1. Rates of pay for hearing officers are not commensurate with attorneys in the field, based on their years of experience. The $100-per-hour maximum set by the state for certain tasks has not increased in 18 years

  2. New York City conflict of interest rules mandate a two-year waiting period for a special education lawyer who handled a due process complaints for parents to apply to be a hearing officer

  3. Hearing officers are waiting extensive periods of time to be paid for their work 

 

What can be done? 

 

We share parents’ frustration regarding these harmful delays. We understand what is at stake and the financial and emotional impact these delays cause. While some of these issues are beyond our control, we always remain in constant communication with the DOE attorneys and the impartial hearing office to advocate for a timely resolution to the matter. If the DOE has been dragging out a case they indicated that they wanted to settle, or we feel strongly that we can win a case at hearing, we will insist on a hearing to speed up the reimbursement process. In addition, we also write complaints to the Commissioner of the New York State Department of Education when a hearing officer has not been assigned to a particular matter. 

 

The special education law parents’ bar is actively working to resolve this crisis. We are lobbying the New York State Department of Education to: 

 

  1. Eliminate the two-year waiting period for current special education lawyers 

  2. Actively recruit experienced hearing officers

  3. Increase the pay of hearing officers to an amount commensurate with their experience and years of practice

  4. Compel the DOE to pay hearing officers in a timely manner

 

There is hope this crisis will be resolved

 

With recent news articles highlighting these harmful delays, and the parents’ bar advocating for changes, this issue has come to the attention of the public, politicians, and the DOE Chancellor and the State Department of Education.  We are hopeful that with this crisis being brought to the forefront, the parents’ bar’s suggestions will be implemented, and the process will accelerate. 

 

Again, at Ratcliff Law we understand the hardship these delays create. To alleviate some of the stress, Ratcliff Law will remain in constant communication, provide updates, and strategize options to speed up the reimbursement process. 

 

For additional questions about the DOE’s delays and its impact on you, or other inquiries, contact us at jennifer@ratclifflaw.org or 646-741-3030.

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