Thank you to two Chesterfield County, Virginia, parents for sharing their due process experiences and associated documents.
You’ll find the hearing transcripts at the end of this article. In the coming weeks, subpoenas, motions, and other documents will be added, providing readers an example of how due process hearings play out record by record.
The documents in this article may be of use to you if you are filing a state complaint or due processâ€”or to present to your local education agency if you’re not at a state complaint for due process stage.
The documents were used in one, or both, of two due process hearings in Virginia that included a focus on the program “Just Words”. In both cases, the hearing officer ruled that “Just Words” is inappropriate for students with Dyslexia. The cases were held within a year of each other (2019 and 2020). John Cafferky of the firm Blankingship & Keith represented Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in both cases.
The hearing officer’s decision for the first hearing is included as well. The hearing officer’s decision for the second hearing has not been posted to VDOE’s site. The one page on which the hearing officer addresses her final decision in relation to “Just Words” is included. The transcripts for the “Just Words” sections of both hearings will be added in the coming week.
The hearing officer’s confirmation letter and her notice of pre-hearing letter fall on the benign side, with a few exceptions:
Metadata lists them as being associated with the U.S. Army.
They included incorrect information related to the parents.
They granted the LEA’s lawyer control of the conference platform.
Can a hearing officer force a family to meet in person, rather than virtually, even though the family and/or witnesses fall into the category of at-risk?
Can their training help parents prepare for due process?
These are just a few of the questions running through my mind when I submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) for “all of the training materials that VDOE provides to hearing officers, as well anything else related to their training.”
Per Â§300.500, each state education agency (SEA) “must ensure that each public agency establishes, maintains, and implements procedural safeguards that meet the requirements of Â§Â§300.500 through 300.536”, which includes the due process timeline.
The timeline isn’t stated in one place, so the dates have been pulled from various sections, to provide a one-page rundown of deadlines that follow receipt of a due process complaint.
While there is a regulated timeline for the assignment of hearing officers to due process hearings (see below), there aren’t federal statutes or regulations stating that the parent and school division be made aware of the hearing officer assignment at the same time.
Before I knew a hearing officer had been assigned, Blankingship & Keith, one of the law firms Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) taps into for due process hearings, started in with subpoenas.
I’d never been served—much less seen—a subpoena before those arrived.
With the help of Google and God, I got up to speed on subpoenas.
I learned they are kin to a child in a toy shop. Ask the kid what he or she wants, and the response will be everything in sight—plus the G.I. Joe with the Kung Fu grip (for those “Trading Places” fans).
I filed for Due Process August 26th of this year.
A due process hearing is an experience I could have done without, but I learned a tremendous amountâ€”especially about hearings held via a virtual platform. I learned, too, more than I ever thought I needed to know about the transcripts related to the hearing (more on this later).
In the coming weeks, I’ll share slices of the hearing, from due process filing to final decisionâ€”which in this hearing included privacy breaches, perjury, technical glitches, an ADA complaint, denial of full access to the hearing, and denial of rights guaranteed under both federal and state regulations.