Five days after I filed a due process complaint, Virginia Hearing Officer Rhonda Mitchell emailed me a confirmation letter (see below) and a formal notice for the first pre-hearing conference (see below).
This five-day timeline for Virginia resides in 8 VAC Â§ 20-81-210(H)(1), which states:
H. Assignment of the special education hearing officer. (34 CFR 300.511)
1. Within five business days of receipt of the request for a nonexpedited hearing and three business days of receipt of the request for an expedited hearing:
a. The local educational agency shall contact the Supreme Court of Virginia for the appointment of the special education hearing officer.
b. The local educational agency contacts the special education hearing officer to confirm availability, and upon acceptance, notifies the special education hearing officer in writing, with a copy to the parent(s) and the Virginia Department of Education of the appointment.
Both documents could be filed under “Benign”, with just a few exceptions.
Exception 1: Document Metadata
Both documents were sent as Word files.
The metadata for the first file lists a TRADOC (United States Army Training and Doctrine Command) author.
The metadata for the second file associates it with the U.S. Army and with an author other than the hearing officer.
To date, HO Rhonda Mitchell has not responded to my requests for 1) the names of individuals with whom she shared my son’s information; 2) the names of individuals with whom she contracted and/or hired, who had access and/or created legal documents related to my son and the due process; and/or 3) why files related to my son include metadata associating them with the U.S. Army.
Exception 2: Incorrect Information
Although neither my husband’s name nor his contact information was included in my filing, his name and contact information appear on both of these documents, and the hearing officer added his email address to her emails. While my husband supports my advocacy, I’m the one who filed the complaint.
It might seem small, but it was an earlier indicator of what was to come in regard to incorrect names, addresses, and information being used/incorporated into the due process hearing. For example, the transcription lists me as an attorney, which I am not; lists my company as the organization representing my me and my son, which it was not; and lists the address and phone number for my company, as the contact information for me and my son, which it is not. Not once did I provide any of this information to the hearing officer, the LEA, the LEA’s attorneys, or the transcriptionists, yet somehow it made its way in there. Although I made all aware of these issues, to date, they remain uncorrected. More on this to come, when I discuss transcripts in full.
The date proposed in the pre-hearing conference notice needed to be changed, to accommodate everyone’s schedule. We sorted this out through emails and the hearing officer issued an amended pre-hearing conference notice.
This document, too, has metadata associated with the U.S. Army and with an individual other than the hearing officer.
Giving Control to the LEA Lawyers
In both documents, the hearing officer noted that she wanted the LEA’s lawyersâ€”rather than the LEAâ€”to arrange the conference call number and/or video link for the pre-conference hearing.
This control will be explored in future posts, as the hearing officer’s granting them control in other area provided the LEA’s lawyers access to, as one example, transcripts in advance of the parent and the hearing officer.