Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Due Process Special Education Decision-Making

Major Advisor

Morgaen Donaldson

Associate Advisor

Sarah Woulfin

Associate Advisor

Preston Green

Field of Study

Educational Leadership (Ed.D.)


Doctor of Education

Open Access

Open Access


My research examines how and when special education administrators use discretion during due process procedures, as well as the contexts and factors that shape decision-making. This qualitative cross-case study explores the decision-making practices of special education administrators working in high-performing and low-performing school districts in Connecticut. It is important to study this topic because there is a lack of research examining the decision-making practices of special education administrators. The existing research indicates that due process procedures are costly, contentious, and negatively impact the human and financial resources of school districts. Furthermore, due process requests continue to rise across Connecticut. I find that cost, time, stressed parent-district relationships, the burden of proof, and the perceived bias of independent hearing officers are factors that influence the decision-making of special education administrators. Consequently, special education administrators appear compelled to settle disputes through mediation. Participants reported having discretion while working with parents during PPT meetings and the early stages of due process procedures, including mediation. I find they act as street-level bureaucrats, using their discretion to build relationships, negotiate and compromise with parents, and build district programs in an effort to manage their clientele. I find high-performing districts reported a higher number of due process requests and a higher frequency of mediations. Lower-performing districts reported fewer due process and mediation requests. In these districts, families with limited resources reportedly rely on free legal aid to resolve disputes. Policy makers should consider making the following changes to special education dispute resolution procedures: a) align state and federal special education law, which would place the burden of proof on the party seeking relief, b) communicate a clear understanding of FAPE to stakeholders, and c) allow impartial mediators to provide guidance to hearing officers regarding the merits of a due process request. Future research should examine the effect mediated agreements have on special education expenditures.