Senator Lanza Introduces 'burden Of Proof' Legislation

Andrew J Lanza

June 04, 2007

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Parents, Lawmakers Want School Districts To Bear Burden Of Proof

Families of special needs children are dealing with a new burden. As NY1's Shawna Ryan reports, families and lawmakers on Staten Island are fighting to put the burden of proof for creating sufficient Individual Education Plans back onto school districts.

Jackie Tripodi is the proud mother of twins. Her daughter Danielle is a typical 14 year old. Her son Joseph has cerebral palsy.

“And I have to tell you it's the best of both worlds, because an appreciation of what my able daughter can do is limitless and to see the little things that my son can do send you spiraling,” said Tripodi.

But getting the proper care Joseph is entitled to hasn't always been easy and that's why Tripodi became involved with Parent to Parent, an organization that helps parents of special needs children.

One recent source of frustration: creating a proper Individual Education Plan.

“An IEP is your contract with the federal government to ensure your child is getting the free and appropriate education,” explained Tripodi.

An IEP is something parents of disabled children, like Tripodi and Ann Marie Caminiti, are constantly trying to improve upon. But since a Supreme Court ruling in 2005, that process has become even more difficult because of something called burden of proof.

“The school district before had to prove to an officer that they were providing the services they feel are appropriate and parents had the right to challenge that,” explained Ann Marie Caminiti, of Parent to Parent’s special operations. “But now, a parent has to present all that on the table and if you're not learned in the legal proceedings it’s difficult. Parents shouldn’t have to fight to death. How do I afford an attorney?”

A number of officials have come forward in support of parents with special needs children.

Senator Andrew Lanza has introduced a Senate bill that restores the burden of proof to school districts. He says placing the burden of proof on parents is too heavy a burden for them to bear.

“We have a responsibility that every kid has free and appropriate education and, most importantly, with kids with disabilities and families with that are already up against a lot, and to put them against this, is undue and many don't have the resources,” said Lanza.

Tripodi says her mission is to provide what both her children, disabled and able, deserve. She says the state should respect that.

“I am not an educator. I don't have a master’s degree or a bachelor’s,” said Tripodi. “What I have is a degree on [my son] Joseph Tripodi. I know Joseph Tripodi.”

-Shawna Ryan