Date Published: Sep 30, 2000
Boston Public Interest Law Journal
Mayes, T.A. & Zirkel, P.A.
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Disputes between parents of children with disabilities and school officials regarding the special education of children with disabilities are reaching courts with greater frequency.  Although a vast majority of disputes under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (hereinafter "the IDEA") and related statutes are limited to the development or implementation of special education programming for a particular child, some disputes implicate statewide concerns. In such cases, parents of children with disabilities may proceed against the "state educational agency" (SEAs) in addition to, or in lieu of, local school districts (local educational agencies, or LEAs). The stakes in such lawsuits are extraordinarily high, with effects that reach beyond the immediate parties. Furthermore, informed observers predict that actions against SEAs will occur more often. Given the projected and potential import of those predicted lawsuits, this article explores the statutory, regulatory, and judicial boundaries for the responsibility of SEAs for violations of IDEA-imposed duties and other laws. Part I provides a basic overview of the IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Part II discusses an SEA's obligation to supervise and regulate SEAs. Part III considers when and under what conditions an SEA must provide direct services to children with disabilities. Part IV examines state policies that allegedly contravene federal law. Part V highlights several defenses SEAs commonly raise, including the recently rejuvenated defense of Eleventh Amendment immunity. Finally, Part VI explores how state law may alter the outcomes of suits against SEAs.