(105 ILCS 5/14-8.02c)
Due process hearing officers.
(a) The State Board of Education shall establish a corps of hearing officers in accordance with this Section and may, with the advice and approval of the Advisory Council on Education of Children with Disabilities, adopt rules consistent with this Section to establish the qualifications of and application process for hearing officers.
(b) Hearing officers must, at a minimum, (i) possess a master's or doctor's degree in education or another field related to disability issues or a juris doctor degree; (ii) have knowledge of and the ability to understand the requirements of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Article 14 of this Code, the implementation of rules or regulations of these federal and State statutes, and the legal interpretation of the statutes, rules, and regulations by federal and State courts; (iii) have the knowledge and ability to conduct hearings in accordance with appropriate, standard, legal practice; and (iv) have the knowledge and ability to render and write decisions in accordance with appropriate, standard, legal practice. Current employees of the State Board of Education, school districts, special education cooperatives, regional service areas or centers, regional educational cooperatives, State-operated elementary and secondary schools, or private providers of special education facilities or programs may not serve as hearing officers.
(c) If, at any time, the State Board of Education determines that additional hearing officers are needed, the State Board of Education shall recruit hearing officer candidates who meet the criteria set forth in subsection (b) of this Section.
(d) Candidates shall be screened by a 7-member Screening Committee consisting of the following: the Attorney General or his or her designee; the State Superintendent of Education or his or her designee; 3 members appointed by the State Superintendent of Education, one of whom shall be a parent of an individual who is or at one time was eligible to receive special education and related services in an Illinois school district, another of whom shall be a director of special education for an Illinois school district or special education joint agreement, and the other of whom shall be an adult with a disability; and 2 members appointed by the Attorney General, one of whom shall be a parent of an individual who is or at one time was eligible to receive special education and related services in an Illinois school district and the other of whom shall be an experienced special education hearing officer who is not a candidate for appointment under this Section. The chairperson of the Advisory Council on Education of Children with Disabilities or his or her designee shall serve on the Screening Committee as an ex-officio, non-voting member. Appointments and reappointments to the Screening Committee shall be for terms of 3 years. In the event that a member vacates a seat on the Screening Committee prior to the expiration of his or her term, a new member shall be appointed, shall serve the balance of the vacating member's term, and shall be eligible for subsequent reappointment. The Screening Committee shall elect a chairperson from among its voting members. Members of the Screening Committee shall serve without compensation but shall be reimbursed by the State Board of Education for their reasonable expenses. The Screening Committee shall review hearing officer applications and supporting information, interview candidates, and recommend candidates to the Advisory Council on Education of Children with Disabilities based upon objective criteria the Screening Committee develops and makes available to the public. All discussions and deliberations of the Screening Committee and Advisory Council referenced anywhere in this Section pertaining to the review of applications of hearing officer candidates, the interviewing of hearing officer candidates, the recommendation of hearing officer candidates for appointment, and the recommendation of hearing officers for reappointment are excepted from the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, pursuant to item (15) of subsection (c) of Section 2 of the Open Meetings Act.
(e) All hearing officer candidates recommended to the Advisory Council on Education of Children with Disabilities shall successfully complete initial training, as established by the contract between the State Board of Education and the training entity, as described in subsection (f), in order to be eligible to serve as an impartial due process hearing officer. The training shall include, at a minimum, instruction in federal and State law, rules, and regulations, federal regulatory interpretations and State and federal court decisions regarding special education and relevant general educational issues, diagnostic procedures, information about disabilities, instruction on conducting effective and impartial hearings in accordance with appropriate, standard, legal practice (including without limitation the handling of amended requests), and instruction in rendering and writing hearing decisions in accordance with appropriate, standard, legal practice. The training must be conducted in an unbiased manner by educational and legal experts, including qualified individuals from outside the public educational system. Upon the completion of the initial training, the Advisory Council on Education of Children with Disabilities, applying objective selection criteria it has developed and made available to the public, shall go into executive session and select the number of hearing officers deemed necessary by the State Board of Education from those candidates who have successfully completed the initial training. Upon selecting the candidates, the Advisory Council shall forward its recommendations to the State Superintendent of Education for final selection. The hearing officers appointed by the State Superintendent of Education shall serve an initial term of one year, subject to any earlier permissible termination by the State Board of Education.
(f) The State Board of Education shall, through a competitive application process, enter into a contract with an outside entity to establish and conduct mandatory training programs for hearing officers. The State Board of Education shall also, through a competitive application process, enter into a contract with an outside entity, other than the entity providing mandatory training, to conduct an annual evaluation of each hearing officer and to investigate complaints against hearing officers, in accordance with procedures established by the State Board of Education in consultation with the Screening Committee. The invitation for applications shall set forth minimum qualifications for eligible applicants. Each contract under this subsection (f) may be renewed on an annual basis, subject to appropriation. The State Board of Education shall conduct a new competitive application process at least once every 3 years after the initial contract is granted. The Screening Committee shall review the training proposals and evaluation and investigation proposals and forward them, with recommendations in rank order, to the State Board of Education.
(g) The evaluation and investigation entity described in subsection (f) of this Section shall conduct an annual written evaluation of each hearing officer and provide the evaluation to the Screening Committee for its consideration in the reappointment process. The evaluation shall include a review of written decisions and any communications regarding a hearing officer's conduct and performance by participants in impartial due process hearings and their representatives. Each hearing officer shall be provided with a copy of his or her written evaluation report and shall have an opportunity, within 30 days after receipt, to review the evaluation with the evaluation and investigation entity and submit written comments. The annual evaluation of each hearing officer, along with the hearing officer's written comments, if any, shall be submitted to the Screening Committee for consideration no later than April 1 of each calendar year. The Screening Committee, based on objective criteria and any evaluation reports prepared by the training entity, shall, on an annual basis, recommend whether the hearing officer should be reappointed for a one-year term and shall forward its recommendations to the Advisory Council on Education of Children with Disabilities. The Advisory Council shall go into executive session and shall review the recommendations of the Screening Committee for the purpose of either ratifying or rejecting the recommendations of the Screening Committee. The Advisory Council shall then forward its list of ratified and rejected appointees to the State Superintendent of Education, who shall determine the final selection of hearing officers for reappointment. Each reappointed hearing officer shall serve a term of one year, subject to any earlier permissible termination by the State Board of Education.
(h) Hearing officers shall receive a base annual stipend and per diem allowance for each hearing at a rate established by the State Board of Education.
The State Board of Education shall provide hearing officers with access to relevant court decisions, impartial hearing officer decisions with child-specific identifying information deleted, statutory and regulatory changes, and federal regulatory interpretations. The State Board of Education shall index and maintain a reporting system of impartial due process hearing decisions and shall make these decisions available for review by the public after deleting child-specific identifying information.
(i) A hearing officer may be terminated by the State Board of Education for just cause if, after written notice is provided to the hearing officer, appropriate timely corrective action is not taken. For purposes of this subsection (i), just cause shall be (1) the failure or refusal to accept assigned cases without good cause; (2) the failure or refusal to fulfill his or her duties as a hearing officer in a timely manner; (3) consistent disregard for applicable laws and rules in the conduct of hearings; (4) consistent failure to conduct himself or herself in a patient, dignified, and courteous manner to parties, witnesses, counsel, and other participants in hearings; (5) the failure to accord parties or their representatives a full and fair opportunity to be heard in matters coming before him or her; (6) violating applicable laws regarding privacy and confidentiality of records or information; (7) manifesting, by words or conduct, bias or prejudice based upon race, sex, religion, disability, or national origin; (8) failure to recuse himself or herself from a hearing in which he or she has a personal, professional, or financial conflict of interest that he or she knew or should have known existed at any time prior to or during the hearing; (9) conviction in any jurisdiction of any felony or of a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude; or (10) falsification of a material fact on his or her application to serve as a hearing officer. In addition, a hearing officer who, as a result of events occurring after appointment, no longer meets the minimum requirements set forth in this Section, shall be disqualified to complete the balance of his or her term.
(Source: P.A. 94-1100, eff. 2-2-07.)