Yesterday, James P. Lorenzo at SED issued a Special Education Field Advisory outlining changes in regulations to the impartial hearing process. One amendment authorizes the impartial hearing officer to grant extensions of time for settlement negotiations. This is significant because it allows parties to fully engage in settlement negotiations without being pressured by the hearing deadlines imposed by SED. This change will also allow parties to fully exhaust settlement options before being required to proceed with the due process hearing.

Another amendment constrains the impartial hearing officer’s ability to issue a “so-ordered” decision that includes terms outside the scope of the complaint. A “so-ordered” decision is an important piece of a settlement agreement that often entitles parents to obtain attorney fee reimbursement. This new provision may limit these types of awards, so we will be watching for its practical effect on the impartial hearing process.