On April 19, 2018, Ruth E. Ryder, Acting Director of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs, issued a letter in response to questions raised by the New York State Education Department Office of Special Education about the effect of New York State law regarding time computation on the federal 45-day timeline for issuing due process hearing decisions. New York’s General Construction Law – GCN § 25-a provides in pertinent part that “[w]hen any period of time, computed from a certain day, within which or after which or before which an act is authorized or required to be done, ends on a Saturday, Sunday or a public holiday, such act may be done on the next succeeding business day and if the period ends at a specified hour, such act may be done at or before the same hour of such next succeeding business day. . . .” Under this law it is permissible to complete a statutory duty the first business day after the deadline for completion if the final day is a Saturday, Sunday, or public holiday. The New York State Education Department has followed this approach in calculating the timeline compliance data it reports to the U.S. Department of Education.
In the LaCrosse letter, the U.S. Department of Education rejected New York’s approach for computing the time for decision issuing when the final day falls on a weekend or holiday. The letter notes that 34 C.F.R. § 300.510(b) requires that not later than 45 days after expiration of the 30-day resolution period provided for in that subsection or the adjusted periods provided for in § 300.510(c), the final hearing decision is to be reached and the decision mailed to each of the parties. The letter reasons that 34 C.F.R. § 300.11 defines “day” as calendar day unless otherwise indicated as school day or business day, therefore the 45-day deadline means 45 calendar days. This interpretation makes no allowance for weekends or holidays. The letter mandated that within 90 days, New York must document to the Office of Special Education Programs that it has revised its processing rules to calculate the 45-day decision timeline consistent with the § 300.11 requirement, and not to apply General Construction Law – GCN § 25-a to the IDEA due process hearing timeline.
New York Impartial Hearing Officers (and hearing officers in other states that have similar practices) will need to be certain that their calendaring of the deadlines conforms to the interpretation in the letter and that their decisions are issued within the 45-day period without waiting until the first day after the weekend or a holiday. The OSEP letter, it should be noted, does not alter the rule of 34 C.F.R. § 300.515(c) that a hearing or reviewing officer may grant specific extensions of time at the request of either party. However, IHOs contemplating making extensions of time must obey whatever requirements apply in their jurisdiction.
It should also be noted that the LaCrosse letter rationale would extend to the five-day timeline within which an IHO must make a determination whether a due process complaint meets the requirements under 34 C.F.R. § 300.508(b) to be sufficient, the 10 days for a party to respond to a complaint under 34 C.F.R. § 300.508(e) and (f), the 15-day timeline after receipt of a due process complaint for an LEA to convene a resolution meeting under 34 C.F.R. § 300.510(a) and the 7-day timeline for an LEA to convene a resolution meeting after receipt of a due process complaint for an expedited hearing under 34 C.F.R. § 300.532(c)(3)(i).