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U.S. Supreme Court Decision Regarding “Burden of Proof”

On November 14, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in the case of Schaffer v. Weast. The Court answered the question about which party in a special education due process hearing carries the “burden of proof.” The country’s Courts of Appeals had previously been split on the issue. Some appellate courts have held that the School District always bears the burden and others have found that the parent has the burden of proof in an IDEA proceeding. The Supreme Court has now clarified the matter. The Supreme Court found that the party initiating the due process, or the party asserting the claims, has the burden to prove the claims. For example, if a parent initiates due process and claims that his/her child is not receiving a free, appropriate public education, the parent bears the burden of proof. If, on the other hand, a District initiates due process in response to a request for an Independent Educational Evaluation, the District would have the burden to prove the propriety of the existing evaluation.