Education Committee Chair Catherine Nolan Empowers Parents of Kids with Special Needs

September 17, 2007

Albany – Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Queens), Chair of the New York State Assembly Education Committee, applauded Governor Elliot Spitzer for signing legislation she sponsored requiring school districts to bear the burden of proof in determining special education placement.

The new law states that when a parent disagrees with a school regarding services and requests an Individual Education Plan (IEP) hearing the school must prove that its services provide an adequate education for the child.

Nolan’s Burden of Proof bill was drafted in response to the 2005 Supreme Court case of Shaffer v. Weast which placed the burden of proof on parents. The case overruled a New York State policy that was in place for more than 30 years which had given school districts the legal and financial responsibility for providing proof. Advocates for parents of students with disabilities claimed that shifting the burden of proof discouraged families from requesting IEP hearings because they lacked the information, skills or financial resources to hire an attorney.

“Thanks to this law parents and students will now have protection from the repercussions of the Shaffer v. Weast case. Parents must have the power to advocate on their child’s behalf for the best education possible. We need to ensure they have the tools, regardless of financial resources,” said Assemblywoman Nolan.

Assemblywoman Nolan’s record demonstrates a consistent effort to support people with disabilities and parent’s rights in education. As Chair of the Assembly Committee on Education Nolan acted swiftly, joining her colleagues on the committee as well as advocate groups including the UFT, NYSUT, NYSARC, Parent to Parent of New York, and others in moving the burden of proof bill through the legislature before the Supreme Court case could do more damage. Nolan was appointed to Chair the Education Committee by Sheldon Silver in March of 2006. The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Senator Lanza (S.5972-A).

“I am thankful that New York State’s original policy will be maintained and that once again the power is in the hands of parents of children with special needs. It is my sincere hope that parents, teachers and school districts continue to work together to serve these families,” said Assemblywoman Nolan.