A due process complaint is a request to a local education agency (school district) and the State Education Agency for a hearing before an impartial hearing officer. This quasi-judicial procedure, as a method for resolving a disagreement, involves a filing by either a parent (in most cases) or a school district challenging the other party over a matter concerning the provision of free appropriate public education to a child who needs or is suspected of needing of special education and related services.
Due process complaints are the most contentious and adversarial of required dispute resolution processes under IDEA. Most due process complaints do not end up in a fully adjudicated hearing. Negotiations between the parties, usually involving attorneys, resolve in one way or another about 80% of all due process filings nationally (and a much higher percentage than that in most states).
What is Required of a Due Process Complaints System?
A Due Process Complaint (Hearings) System must be available under IDEA in every state. Each State Educational Agency must have in place mechanisms for:
Filing a due process complaint (a request for a hearing); a variety of options for the resolution of the complaint that involve the parent and the school reaching an agreement that addresses the basis of the complaint and obviates the need for a formal hearing; and, a system for the conduct of an impartial hearing and the issuance of a legally binding decision, where one is needed.
A system of appeal from that decision that will vary depending on state law and may involve either a state level review (where the initial hearing was conducted by a local agency) or an appeal to civil court.
Full legal requirements may be found at: 34 CFR 300.507 - 518 (see page 46793-46797 of full IDEA Regulations at: https://www2.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/finrule/2006-3/081406a.pdf).
An OSEP approved Procedural Safeguards notice, including a specific description of due process complaints safeguards (see pages 17 – 35) is available at: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/files/modelform-compendium.pdf.
OSEP’s topical brief on Procedural Safeguards: Resolution Meetings And Due Process Hearings can be found at: http://idea.ed.gov/explore/view/p/%2Croot%2Cdynamic%2CTopicalBrief%2C22%2C.