Special Education Hearing Procedure

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Language of Hearing
Making Your Case
Witnesses
Last Minute Documents or Witnesses


Location

For the location of the hearing, the secretary of the tribunal picks a place close to the area where both sides live. Sometimes it will be in a hotel or library. The location will be accessible.

The Panel

A panel of 3 tribunal members will hear the appeal. One member will be the panel chair, who will guide the hearing.

What You Should Bring to the Hearing

  • Two copies of your binder that contains the documents you plan to use as evidence. One for you and one for your witnesses. 
  • The binder that the school board will give you before the hearing.  
  • Any audio-visual equipment to help tell your story. Such equipment is not provided, so if you need it, you have to bring it yourself.

Length of a Hearing

The hearing lasts as long as it takes to hear both sides. This may be anywhere from 1 to 5 days. Often, the hearing starts in the morning, there is a break for lunch and then the hearing resumes and goes all afternoon. Breaks may be taken if someone wants one.

Language of Hearing

Unless you are appealing a decision made in a French school board, the hearing will be in English. If you want to speak in French or question a witness in French, you can ask for an interpreter. If you wish to use American Sign Language, an interpreter will be provided. If you need an interpreter, you must tell the secretary of the tribunal as soon as possible.

Other People Who May Be at the Hearing

  • Hearings are open for anyone to attend. If you are using official documents or information that you want to be kept private, you can ask for a seal. This means it will not be made public.
  • You can have a representative or a support person at the hearing with you
  • The school board will likely have a representative and the superintendent at the hearing.

Keeping a Record

court reporter will make a record of the hearing. If you want a copy of the record, called the transcript, you will have to purchase it. You can ask the secretary of the tribunal about the cost and where you can pay for it.

Confidentiality

  • There may be times when the hearing deals with private matters. The chairperson may close the hearing to the public if a party asks for this or if the panel thinks it is needed.  
  • No one other than the court reporter is allowed to record the hearing without special permission.

Food and a Place to Stay

Even though the hearing will be held in the area of the school board, it might still be quite distant from your home. If you are too far away to go home at night, you will have to find your own place to stay and pay for it. You will be given water during the hearing, but you must take care of your own food.
 

Making Your Case

Opening Statements

Usually, you will begin by telling the panel who you are, why you have come and what you will be trying to prove to them as the hearing goes ahead. This is called the opening statement.

The opening statement includes:

  • Showing that you already tried all the other ways to fix your issue. Remember these steps are explained for you in the Appeal Steps section. 
  • Giving the main reason why you are unhappy with the identification and/or placement of the student
  • Telling the panel how you think the issue can be fixed

The school board will then have its turn to:

  • Tell the panel what it wants to prove
  • Address your ideas for fixing the issue 

Giving Evidence to Support Your Story

To make your case, your information and documents must be accepted and numbered as exhibits at the hearing.  For the panel to agree to look at a document, it must be relevant.

If there is a disagreement about allowing an exhibit, the party who wants to include it must tell the panel why the information is important.

Each party can give evidence.  The evidence must be:

  • relevant;
  • recent; and
  • helpful to the panel in figuring out the strengths and needs of the student.
  • Evidence might include:
    • educational, psychological, and health assessment reports. These types of reports are explained in Regulation 181/98
    • other information about the student’s schooling, such as report cards and samples of work; and
    • information about the programs and services you believe meet the student’s needs

All evidence, even hearsay evidence, could be allowed by the panel.

As well as verbal and written evidence, the parties should present information about the placement, special education programs and services that are most likely to meet the student’s needs.

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Witnesses

Both sides can call witnesses to support their story. The school board goes first and then it is your turn. Each side can ask questions of the other side’s witnesses. Witnesses cannot come into the hearing room until it is their time to speak (testify).   

Steps followed for each witness are:

  • The panel chair asks the witness to promise to tell the truth.
  • The witness is questioned by the party that called him/her.
  • The other party cross-examines the witness.
  • The witness is re-examined by the party who called him/her about anything new that came up while the witness was being questioned by the other side.
  • The panel may question the witness.
  • The parties can ask more questions of the witnesses, but only about new things that came up during the panel’s questioning.

*** If you are ever unsure about what is happening during the hearing or why it is happening, feel free to ask the panel chair to explain.

Using Witnesses to Help Make Your Case

  • Call the witnesses in an order that helps tell your story in a clear way.
  • When you call your witnesses, you should use open-ended questions; do not use questions that suggest what the answers might be.
  • When questioning the other side’s witness, you can suggest an answer and ask for his or her view, and then ask, “yes or no?” If you have information that goes against what a witness is saying, ask him or her about it.
  • If both parents are present at the hearing, one may act as a representative and ask questions. The other parent becomes a witness and may be cross-examined by the other side.
  • If you question your witness a second time, you can only ask about anything new that came up while the witness was being questioned by the other side or by the panel. You can’t ask your witness the same questions.

Number of Witnesses Called in a Day

The number of witnesses in a day is based on how long questioning takes. Plan to call the witness(es) you need, but make sure time is left to ask your witness your questions, to have the other side ask their questions and to allow the panel to ask its questions.

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Last Minute Documents or Witnesses

Normally, you are not allowed to add witnesses or official documents after both sides have shared information, but, in some special cases, you may be allowed to. If the school board doesn’t want something added, they will argue against it. The panel chair will make a ruling on whether or not your last-minute witnesses or documents will be accepted. This decision is final.  

Objections

If you hear the school board ask a question that you don’t think is fair, right or important, you can stand up and tell the panel so. This is called an objection. You will have a chance to explain why you do not like the question, and the school board will say why they think the question is important and fair. The panel chair will rule on the objection, and again, this decision is final.

*** Remember, this tribunal is not a court. At any time, parties are allowed to ask questions, as long as they have something to do with the issue. 

Conduct

All sides must show respect for everyone at the hearing. Rudeness toward witnesses, representatives or the panel is against the rules. Keep in mind that you are making an impression on the panel by the way you conduct yourself and present your case.

Communicating With the Panel During the Hearing

If you have questions or comments, direct them to the panel chair. The chair will guide the hearing and always keep you informed about what is going on and why. If you have a question or issue, you must say it out in the open. You cannot talk to the panel in private. This rule makes sure nothing is done without both sides knowing about it.

Final Argument

Once all the witnesses have had their turn, the exhibits (documents) have been shared, and the panel has listened to all the information that came out in the hearing, the panel will ask each side to talk about why the panel should make a decision in their favour.  

  • Prepare an outline of what you want to say during your final argument.
  • This is not the time to testify all over again. Instead, go over the best evidence that supports your side of the story, and list the reasons why the other side’s case is weak.
  • Remind the panel about helpful things said by witnesses, useful things found in exhibits and key points from other cases in the past.
  • Tell the panel what you would like them to remember as they leave to make their decision.

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