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The Story: Surviving Due Process:
Stephen Jeffers v. School Board

Information l Story l Scenes l Cast l Orders l Updates l Awards
Trailer (Quicktime) l Trailer (Windows Media Player)

Story of Stephen Jeffers v. School Board Surviving Due Process: When Parents & the School Board Disagree - Stephen Jeffers v. School Board - produced by Harbor House Law Press, Inc.

Surviving Due Process: Stephen Jeffers v. School Board is based on a true story.

Stephen is a young child with autism. Two years ago, his parents placed him in The Early School, a private special education school that provides intensive one-on-one Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy to youngsters with autism.

Stephen made substantial progress at The Early School so his parents requested reimbursement for his special education program at the private school.

The school district refused to provide any reimbursement and offered to place Stephen into the public school's special education class.
Stephen's parents requested a special education due process hearing to resolve this dispute.

Trailers

Watch the trailer in Quicktime or on Windows Media Player


Background

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
requires public schools to provide a free, appropriate education to qualifying students with disabilities. If there is a disagreement between parents and their school district, either party my request a special education due process hearing.


In Surviving Due Process: Stephen Jeffers v. School Board, you will see how a case is prepared and presented by both sides.

The procedure may remind you of a courtroom - and it should. In many states, due process hearings are quite formal. Each state has specific regulations that govern the procedure to request a special education due process hearing and the appointment of hearing officers.

School board attorney Kathleen Mehfoud and paralegal Lori Battin prepare the school board's caseW
hen this story begins, the school board attorney just learned about the parents' request for a due process hearing.

As the school board attorney (played by attorney Kathleen Mehfoud) discusses the case with her assistant (Lori Battin), you will see how she begins to prepare her case.


Dismissed?

Stephen's parents ask the hearing officer not to dismiss their case There are very specific rules that must be followed in due process hearings. The parents' case was nearly dismissed because they misunderstood the legal requirements for exchange of documents and witness lists.

The Hearing Officer presides over the procedure, listens to all testimony, weighs the evidence and makes decisions. Generally, it is not the Hearing Officer's responsibility to assist either party.

After hearing from both sides, the hearing officer (played by Darrel Tillar Mason) gave the parents a 30 day continuance to prepare their case -- over the objections of school board counsel.

Pete and Pam Wright meet with parentsSearching for an Attorney

Mr. and Ms. Jeffers began to search for an attorney who can represent them - not an easy task. After a telephone call to Pete Wright about their situation, they decide to meet with him.

Preparing for a Due Process Hearing

Mr. and Ms. Jeffers meet with Pete WrightDuring their meeting with Pete and Pam Wright, Pete discusses strategies and the issues of their case. He gives the parents a list of things to learn and do before the due process hearing resumes.

As Pete tells Mr. and Ms. Jeffers, "The key to a successful outcome is preparation, preparation, preparation."

Due Process Hearing Resumes

The School Board Presents Its Case

Mary Hart, special education teacher Several witnesses testify for the school board, including the special education teacher, the occupational therapist who has worked with Stephen, and the director of special education.

Issues raised by the school board include:

* The private school does not provide specific related services that Stephen needs.

* The lack of "group experiences" in the private special education school prevents Stephen from learning from his non-disabled peers.

* Benefits of the public school program as evidenced by progress made by other students who have similar disabilities.


The Parents Present Their Case

Dawn Hendricks, program specialist at Stephen's school Several witnesses testify for the parents, including the child psychologist who evaluated Stephen and observed his program at The Early School, the program specialist who supervises Stephen's educational program and therapists, the principal of The Early School, and Stephen's mother.

Issues raised by the parents include:

* The public school teachers and service providers are overburdened and cannot meet Stephen's needs.

Candace David, principal of The Early School* Stephen requires intensive one-on-one instruction to make progress.

* The public school program will damage Stephen because it does not meet his unique needs.

* Stephen's behaviors are too severe and too unusual to be handled in a group classroom setting.

Rhonda Jeffers, Stephen's motherStephen's mother is the last witness to testify.

Ms. Jeffers testifies about the family's reaction when they learned that Stephen has autism, describes Stephen's program at the Early School, and her observations of the public school program. She describes Stephen's progress and shares her fears that if Stephen has to leave The Early School before he is ready, he will regress and lose the gains he has made during the past two years.


Closing Arguments, Briefs

Hearing Officer Darrel Tillar Mason, Esq.After the final witness testifies, the hearing officer usually discusses procedural matters. Each party may have an opportunity to make closing comments, oral or written, in the form of a legal brief. Each side will summarize the case and explain how the evidence makes it the duty of the hearing officer to decide in their favor.

After oral arguments, or in lieu of these arguments, the hearing officer may request that each party prepare written "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law." The briefing schedule may depend on when the Court Reporter is able to complete the written transcripts.

Note: For purposes of brevity, many scenes, witness testimony, objections by attorneys, legal arguments, and rulings by the hearing officer were not included in this film.

Learn more about Surviving Due Process: Stephen Jeffers v. School Board:

Trailer (Quicktime)
Trailer (Windows Media Player)


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Updates on the Case

When Surviving Due Process was being filmed, the due process hearing in Z.P. v. Henrico School Board had just been held. The story of Surviving Due Process: Stephen Jeffers v. School Board was based on the facts in Z.P. v. Henrico School Board.

The individuals who played the roles of teachers, therapists, psychologist, special ed director, and attorneys in Surviving Due Process read the transcript of the Z.P. v. Henrico School Board due process hearing. At the time the DVD was filmed, the hearing officer had not issued a decision.

What happened next?

The parents received a favorable decision from the hearing officer. The school district appealed to U. S. District Court. The District Court reversed the hearing officer and found for the school district.

The parents appealed this decision to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The Court heard oral argument on September 29, 2004.

On February 11, 2005, in a 2-1 split decision, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the District Court and remanded the case back with instructions. Read School Bd of Henrico County VA v. Z.P. in html.

School Bd of Henrico County VA v. Z.P. is also available in pdf at http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/caselaw/05/4th.henrico.va.zo,pdf

Does this mark the end of School Bd of Henrico v. Z.P.? Yes. After the favorable pro-parent decision by the 4th Circuit, the case settled.

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