Date of Award
Doctor of Education
Norma T. Mertz
Mary Jane Connelly
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) establishes the due process hearing as a major component of the mechanism for conflict resolution between schools and parents regarding students eligible for special education services. Current research indicates that hearings are costly, both in financial terms and in terms of diminished relationships between schools and families. The purpose of this study was to explore whether various components of the comprehensive state plans and/or cultural factors were related to the frequency of due process hearings.
The fifty states were grouped in terms of population and special education enrollment and subdivided by the number of hearings held in 1993. Three pairs of states were carefully chosen: each pair exhibiting a strong correlation in cultural factors while displaying marked differences in the number of hearings.
Comprehensive state plans and information from Annual Reports to Congress were used to analyze state policies and practices regarding least restrictive environment, identification, and due process procedures. Data obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources, were used to explore cultural elements of the state including factors related to population, education, and socio-economics. The "litigiousness" of the states, or the inclination to resolve conflicts through the court systems, was also examined.
Analysis of the data was performed on three levels: intra-spectively in terms of the individual states: inter-spectively in terms of paired states; and between groups of high and low due process states. As neither the probability nor chi square analysis could effectively differentiate significance among factors, a numerical analysis was based on marked deviations among percentages.
The study uncovered three factors which clearly distinguished high and low due process states: 1) Least Restrictive Environment: High due process states placed a greater number of students In more restrictive environments and developed state plans containing a higher level of detail and elaboration; 2) Identification: High due process states used procedures other than a regression formula to Identify students with specific learning disabilities; and 3) Litigiousness: High due process states exhibited higher numbers in the three factors comprising "litigiousness." Given the scope of this study, findings did not establish a causal relationship between the frequency of due process hearings and these factors. However, compelling questions for further research were raised.
Further study is indicated comparing state policies and practices against the Issues presented at due process hearings, mediation practices and effectiveness, criteria for special education eligibility and for determining least restrictive environment, and case studies exploring local policies, practices, and attitudes regarding hearings. The replication of this study using a wider range of states would also contribute significantly to the knowledge base involving factors impacting due process litigation.
Earnest, Sandra L., "An exploration of factors relating to variation among states in the frequency of due process hearings. " PhD diss., University of Tennessee, 1999.