Observation of a student’s program or proposed program by parents or by their expert evaluators or consultants is a critical step in many cases for parents to make informed decisions about their child’s special educational services. In addition, an observation is a necessary ingredient of almost any case at the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (“BSEA”), as hearing officers will often discount a witness’s opinion about a district’s program when that witness has not observed the program about which s/he is testifying.
In light of these considerations, it is disheartening that school districts so frequently throw unreasonable (and illegal) conditions and delays into the paths of parents and their experts who seek to observe a program. Examples include requiring criminal record checks, despite the fact that an observer will be accompanied by a school employee and not alone with students at any point; attempts to require that an observer provide a copy of her notes following the observation; long delays (often with phone calls and emails unreturned) in communications about scheduling; arbitrary limits on the amount of time that can be spent observing and/or the classes and activities that may be observed; last minute cancellations or postponements; scheduling unusual and unrepresentative activities (e.g., showing a movie or administering an exam) for the time an observer is at the program; and so on. All of these sorts of tactics play havoc with the experts, whose availability is typically quite limited, and with parents who must negotiate time away from work to observe a program. Continue reading