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New N.H. Law Shifts Burden Of Proof To School Districts In Special Education Services Disputes

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Sarah Gibson
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NHPR
Gov. Chris Sununu signs the law.

Gov. Chris Sununu has signed into law a bill designed to help parents who are fighting with their school district over special education services.

Until now, parents had to supply proof that a special education plan wasn’t sufficient for their child. Under the new law, the school must provide proof that the plan is appropriate in disputes over special education services at the state Department of Education.

The law is a big win for some disability rights advocates, who say school disruptions during the pandemic exacerbated earning gaps for students with special education needs.

At a bill signing on Thursday, Sununu said it would put families on an even playing field with districts.

“It really does what we always talked about: putting the individual first, putting the kids first, putting families first,” Sununu said. ”

Disputes between families and districts over special education services can lead to mediation, but they rarely reach the level of a due process hearing, when this new law would have the greatest effect. But advocates for it say that shifting the burden of proof may encourage school districts to provide more services to students prior to a hearing.

“It could open up opportunities for families that are disadvantaged and have a lot of stress and pressure on them otherwise,” Jaime Carter, a mother of a son with an individualized education plan (IEP) for autism and speech delays, said. “These routes or avenues to fight the IEP have in the past just not been attainable for most people.”

The law has been criticized by local school board and administrator associations, who say the new requirements are unnecessary and costly. Similar laws have been passed in other states, including Connecticut and New Jersey.

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