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Guide to Education Hearings
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 at a prehearing conference about how the hearing will proceed.
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 OAH at the telephone number listed on your Notice of Hearing or Scheduling Notice.
The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) is authorized to render final administrative decisions in seven areas: special education, student transfer, initial certification of educational professionals, administration of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), enforcement of equal educational opportunities policies, school district boundary disputes, and traffic safety education (WAC 392-101-010 and RCW 28A.315.205). Additionally, OAH is designated to hear appeals regarding audit resolutions, discipline of educational professionals and bus driver certification (WAC 392-115-151, WAC 181-86-150 and WAC 180-20-140 respectively).
Except for hearings involving special education, a hearing is started by sending a written request to OSPI's Administrative Resource Services. A letter identifying the appellant (including the appellant's name, address and telephone number), the opposing party (the name of the school district, or office within OSPI whose actions are contested) and the action challenged, is sufficient in most types of OSPI cases.
A special education hearing is started by sending a written request to the opposing party, with a copy to OSPI's Administrative Resource Services. The request must identify the student (including the student's address and telephone number), the name of the school, a description of the nature of the problem, and a proposed resolution. Complete instructions and a blank hearing request form can be found at http://www.k12.wa.us/SpecialEd/pubdocs/DPH_form.doc.
OSPI's address to file a request for a hearing and telephone number are:
Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction
A request for a special education hearing must contain specific information. See OSPI's online instructions and 20 USC § 1415(7)(A). Student transfer cases require use of a form obtained from OSPI's Administrative Resource Services office.
When OSPI receives a request for hearing it forwards the request to the ALJ who is the OAH/OSPI Caseload Coordinator. The caseload coordinator assigns an ALJ. An order is mailed to each party identified in the request for hearing, setting the dates for the prehearing telephone conference and hearing. The order also contains a copy of the request for hearing. In special education cases a list of low cost legal advocacy services is provided. Either party may request a continuance of the prehearing conference or the hearing.
Prehearing Conference 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 proceeding.
The ALJ issues a prehearing order that summarizes the prehearing conference and sets deadlines. Each party should be careful to review the 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 or other exhibits, to the ALJ and to the opposing party. Failure to exchange the documents may result in the document or witness being excluded from the hearing.
It is useful to create a hearing notebook for use during the hearing. The notebook should contain a list of questions for each witness, including questions for the other party's witnesses (cross examination). It is also useful to place a copy of each exhibit about which a witness will testify, immediately after that witness' questions.
In addition, the parties should prepare one extra copy of the complete exhibit notebook for the use of the witnesses.
Each party must arrange for the party's own witnesses to appear at the hearing. The ALJ may authorize a witness to appear by telephone if it is necessary. If a witness is reluctant to attend, the ALJ may issue a subpoena to compel the person's attendance.
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. The ALJ 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. The proceedings may be recorded by a court reporter or by a tape recorder used 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. Each party has a right to question the witnesses presented by the other party. Each party may be assisted by an attorney or lay advocate.
After the evidence has been presented the parties are given an opportunity to make closing statements. Closing statements are an opportunity for each party to argue how the facts and the law support his/her point of view about how the case should be decided. Sometimes parties wish to submit closing argument in writing and a due date will be set. After closing statements, the ALJ shall close the record. No further evidence may be submitted after the close of the record.
Please Note: Firearms and other dangerous weapons are prohibited at hearings and in all OAH offices.
The Decision At the conclusion 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 filed by Parents, a decision must be issued within 75 days of the request for hearing, or within 10 school days for special education discipline cases, unless the deadline has been extended. Extensions of the decision due date are not available for special education discipline cases. (WAC 392-172-350(5) and WAC 392-172-356(3)).
Appeal Rights The decision contains information about appeal rights. Initial Orders (audit resolution and pupil transportation cases) may be appealed to OSPI (RCW 34.05.464). An order suspending or revoking the certificate of an educational professional is appealable to the professional educator standards board. In some cases, either party may ask the ALJ to reconsider the final decision (RCW 34.05.470)). A motion for reconsideration is not required in order to appeal a final decision. A final decision may be appealed to state superior court (RCW 34.05.510). In some cases, such as special education cases, a party may elect to appeal to either state superior court or federal district court (WAC 392-172-360). A party interested in seeking further review should carefully read the appeal rights defined at the end of the written decision.
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