Do Special Ed Judges Need Law Degrees?
NEW YORK — A coalition of city lawyers representing kids with learning disabilities are pushing back on a state proposal to allow judges without law degrees to hear student complaints.
New York City currently has fewer than 70 special education judges — called impartial hearing officers — to handle the thousands of complaints that students in special education lodge every year against the city school system, resulting in more than 10,000 still-open cases.
State education officials have suggested allowing judges without law degrees to hear complaints, to open up the pool of applicants.
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But in a letter sent to city and state authorities Friday, a group of special education lawyers argued that was a “totally misplaced” idea that would “not address the underlying causes of the problems in New York City,” and only “cause further injury.”
Impartial hearing officers are mandated by federal law. The administrative judges hear complaints from families of students in special education and can require school districts to provide additional services.
The judges are currently required to have a law degree and experience working in special education law, but state officials are mulling the idea of loosening the requirement.
Critics argued in Friday’s letter that judges must navigate complex disputes involving federal law and decades of case law. The letter noted that New York previously allowed hearing officers without law degrees, and it caused “significant delays” because lawyers filed more appeals.
As an alternative, lawyers suggested paying judges by the hour, instead of by case, to attract more hires.
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