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About Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Hearings
How to use this guide
This guide provides a general overview of what to expect if you have a special education or other Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) hearing before the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). What actually happens at your hearing may be different depending on the type of hearing and the unique circumstances of your case. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will give you instructions about how your hearing will proceed at the prehearing conference and/or beginning of the hearing.
Words highlighted below have been defined in our Glossary of Legal Terms. Just click on the highlighted word and you will jump to its definition on the glossary page. When possible, we have also highlighted specific laws and regulations for you to review.
If you have further questions, contact the telephone number listed on your Scheduling Notice or Notice of Hearing.
The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) is authorized to render final administrative decisions in nine areas:
For all OSPI hearings except special education and nonresident student transfer cases (see below), a hearing is started by sending a letter to the Administrative Resource Services office of OSPI. For most types of cases, it is sufficient if the letter includes: the appellant’s name, address, and telephone number, the opposing party (the name of the school district, or part of the OSPI agency whose actions are contested), and the action challenged. The letter should be mailed to:
Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction
Special education cases – These cases are initiated by filing a due process hearing request. A due process hearing request must contain specific information. See OSPI’s website for instructions and a form to request a special education hearing:
Nonresident student transfer cases - The hearing request must be on a special form. Information and a link to that form may be found by scrolling down to the “Student Transfer” section on the following website page:
When OSPI receives a request for hearing it forwards the request to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) OSPI Caseload Coordinator. The Caseload Coordinator assigns an ALJ. A prehearing telephone conference and hearing date are selected. A Scheduling Notice containing both of these dates and additional information is mailed to each party identified in the request for hearing, together with a copy of the hearing request. In special education cases, a list of legal resources is provided. Either party may request a continuance of the prehearing conference or the hearing for good cause.
The prehearing conference is conducted by telephone and is used to discuss the potential length of the hearing, a location for the hearing, the issues to be decided, the order of presentation, and any other matters that will contribute to an efficient hearing.
The ALJ issues a Prehearing Order that summarizes the prehearing conference and sets forth deadlines. Each party should carefully review the Prehearing Order and comply with its terms. At the prehearing conference, the ALJ will set a date (usually five business days before the hearing) by which each party is required to identify witnesses and provide copies of documents to the ALJ and the opposing party (the documents are also called exhibits). Failure to exchange the documents may result in the document being excluded from the hearing.
It is useful to create a hearing notebook for your use during the hearing. The notebook should contain a list of questions for every witness, including questions for the other party's witnesses (cross examination). It is also useful to use exhibit numbers in your questions if you intend to ask a witness about a particular exhibit.
The parties must prepare four identical copies of their exhibit notebooks. The four copies are for themselves, the other party, the ALJ, and the witnesses.
Each party must arrange for their own witnesses to appear at the hearing. The ALJ may authorize a witness to appear by telephone if necessary. If a witness is reluctant to attend, the ALJ may issue a subpoena to compel the person’s attendance.
Please note that firearms and other dangerous weapons are prohibited at hearings and in all OAH offices.
Arrive at the hearing early enough to start the hearing at the scheduled time. At the beginning of the hearing the ALJ will introduce the parties and the procedural background of the case. He or she will describe the procedure that will be followed. The parties shall present their cases in the order previously agreed upon, or in the order designated by the ALJ. In some types of OSPI hearings, the proceedings are reported by a court reporter. In other types of OSPI hearings, the proceedings are digitally recorded by the ALJ.
At the hearing, the ALJ will receive exhibits, hear testimony, and consider the parties' arguments. Testimony is given under oath or affirmation and each party has a right to question witnesses presented by the other party. Depending upon the specific type of hearing, each party may be represented by an attorney, accompanied and advised by a lay advocate, or the party may represent her/him/itself.
After the evidence has been presented, the parties will have an opportunity to make closing arguments. Closing arguments are an opportunity to argue how the facts and the law support your view about how the case should be decided. Often parties wish to submit closing argument in writing, and the ALJ will set a date for their submission. After receiving closing arguments, the ALJ will close the record. No further evidence may be submitted after the close of record.
At the end of the hearing the ALJ will provide a time frame for issuance of the written decision. The decision contains three parts: findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order. The decision determines each of the issues identified in the prehearing order. The Administrative Procedure Act requires that a decision be mailed no later than 90 days from the close of record. RCW 34.05.461(8). In special education cases, a decision must generally be issued within 75 days of the request for hearing. This deadline may be extended by the ALJ upon the request of a party. WAC 392-172A-05110(3). In special education discipline cases, the deadline for the ALJ to issue the written decision is shortened to 10 school days after the hearing, and this deadline may not be extended. WAC 392-172A-05160(3)(a).
Appeal rights will be stated at the end of the decision. In most types of cases, parties may ask the ALJ to reconsider his or her decision before they appeal that decision to court. RCW 34.05.470. In special education cases, there is no right to reconsideration, but parties may appeal to either state superior court or federal district court. WAC 392-172A-05115.
OAH maintains a list of organizations or persons who assist or represent parents in special education due process disputes. Each has requested to be on the list. Some have more experience in the field than others. It is important when seeking representation to ask questions to ensure that your needs will be met. This list is not exhaustive nor is it a recommendation of any particular service provider. Parents may also contact the state bar association and their local bar association’s lawyer referral service for options in their area. Click to view the Legal Assistance List for Special Education Disputes.
How can I get my name added to the legal assistance list for attorneys/advocates for special education hearings?
Submit a written request to the OAH/OSPI caseload coordinator at the following address:
Matthew D. Wacker, Senior ALJ