Governor Jack Markell signed legislation today which supports the ability for parents of children with special needs to advocate for their families. On hand to offer support and insight regarding the intrinsic value of this law were Lt. Governor Matt Denn and Representative Quinn Johnson, along with members of Delaware's disability community.
"There is no better advocate for a child with special needs than his or her parents," said Governor Markell. "But when parents are forced to seek outside support and expertise, it's important that cost not impede them from doing so."
The law, which was introduced as House Bill 365 in early June and quickly passed the House and Senate, makes it possible for parents who successfully challenge denials of services to their children with special needs to be reimbursed for the costs of hiring expert witnesses they have been forced to use for their successful appeals. It returns to Delaware a right that parents of children with special needs had until 2006, when the United States Supreme Court revoked it; the right to have the money they spend on doctors and diagnostic tests to pursue an appeal for their children reimbursed if it turns out they were right and the school was wrong.
"This law, quite simply, will dramatically improve the ability of parents who have children with special needs to advocate for their kids in our public schools." said Lt. Governor Denn, author of the bill. "All these parents ask from the state is that it treats their children fairly, and that it gives them a chance to fulfill their potential."
Currently, when children with special needs are denied educational services, they must go through a hearing process set up under federal and state law. The process often requires the parents or guardians to hire an expert and/or have diagnostic tests administered, which can be prohibitively expensive. Many parents are unable to advocate for their children with special needs because they cannot afford to pay the costs for experts or tests. As a result, many children with special needs do not receive services that their parents and medical providers firmly believe are necessary to the children's educational success.
Rep. Quinn Johnson, who sponsored the bill, said that while the new law doesn't guarantee parents will be reimbursed for experts or tests, it gives them a certain level of comfort that they will be if they are successful.
"School districts have a full arsenal they can bring to the table during these proceedings. Often times, districts come in with experts, while the parents come in by themselves. It's a real David versus Goliath situation," said Rep. Johnson, D-Middletown. "This law will make sure parents are on an even playing field when fighting for services that their children need."