The Academy has been established by the Seattle University School of Law at the initiative of its Director, S. James Rosenfeld, Adjunct Professor and Director, Education Law Programs, to serve as a resource and focus for interaction among ALJs and HOs from around the country. To further this goal, the Academy offers annual training sessions, operates an e-mail listserv exclusively for IDEA decision-makers and maintains this Web site.
Since its establishment in 2002, over 300 administrative law judges, hearing officers and administrators of state hearing systems from 27 states have attended the Academy. Attendance is limited to persons currently serving as special education hearing officers and state-level administrators who have no policy-making responsibilities. Trainers have included a carefully chosen, balanced faculty consisting of attorneys representing school districts and parents, academic leaders and experienced special educators. The Academy is now generally recognized as the premiere program through which states can meet their obligation to train special education decision makers under under IDEA, 20 U.S.C. §1415(f)(3)(A).
A competent and impartial administrative hearing system is integral to the integrity and utility of IDEA’s procedural safeguards. The importance of IDEA’s “due process” hearing system, and the persons who make decisions, was re-emphasized by Congress in its 2004 reauthorization of IDEA by its insistence that decision-makers possess a fundamental understanding of the law, the knowledge and ability to conduct hearings, and the knowledge and ability to render and write decisions in accordance with appropriate, standard legal practice. These requirements succinctly identify the overall reasons for establishment of The National Academy for IDEA Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers. The Academy was established in 2002 in furtherance of Seattle University’s broad dedication to social justice and because of the ability of the School of Law to provide the institutional framework necessary to develop a professional and objective program.
A quality hearing system benefits everyone, by reducing litigation and related costs, instilling confidence in the system and assuring the realization of IDEA's goals. Moreover, if courts could rely upon sound and well-reasoned administrative hearing decisions, judicial burdens might even be reduced. School systems and parents alike, and their legal representatives on both sides, have expressed continuing frustration and dissatisfaction with the existing due process hearing system.
For these reasons, the importance of adequate and sufficient initial training and periodic updates for administrative law judges and hearing officers cannot be overstated. Administrative law judges or hearing officers must understand and evaluate expert testimony on a broad range of human, physical, emotional and psychological factors. Conclusions must be drawn from complex evidence, often on an expedited basis. Special education hearings generate intense emotions and battles between expert witnesses and often involve the strategy and tactics of complex business litigation.
Until now, however, no continuing education program recognizing the complexity of this process has been available. Inasmuch as the Seattle University School of Law is in an ideal position to provide the institutional framework necessary to develop a professional and objective program, the Academy has been established in furtherance of the University’s broad dedication to social justice.