Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Finding a Special Education Advocate: Paid or Volunteer?


Should I choose a special education advocate whom I must pay? Will a volunteer advocate be able to help me as much as a paid advocate?


Many States have paid as well as volunteer advocates. Just because an advocate charges a fee does not necessarily mean that you will get better advocacy services. Alternatively, just because an advocate volunteers his or her services for free does not mean that he or she is not as good as a paid advocate. There are no standards of practice for special education advocates. So, you must check the advocate out carefully.

Before hiring a paid or unpaid special educaton advocate, review the guidelines on the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA) website: Click the link, "Find an Attorney/Advocate." Then, click the link on the left sidebar to review the guidelines to finding an experienced and knowledgeable advocate.

Just as advocates choose whether to volunteer or charge fo their services, they also choose what services they provide to parents. Some provide nothing more than a friendly face at an IEP Team meeting. Other advocates assist and advise parents at due process hearings and appeals.

You may think that you only need an advocate who will help you at an IEP Team Meeting. If you have ever attended a Wrightslaw Seminar, you understand Pete Wright's Rule of Adverse Assumptions.

In short, the Rules of Adverse Assumptions means you should always expect the very worst. Expect that one day you will end up in a special education hearing over your child's education.

If you subscribe to the Rule of Adverse Assumptions,you will want to choose an advocate with experience in due process hearings. That does not mean that the advocate has assisted and advised parents at special education due process hearing. It means that the advocate has knowledge of what happens at a special education due process hearing. An advocate who has this knowledge will make sure that what happens at your IEP Team Meeting assumes that you will end up at a due process hearing. He or she will protect your case for future resolution.

Advocates can obtain this type of experience by:
  • Working closely or developing a relationship with an experienced parent attorney.
  • Observing a number of different due process hearings
  • Being a paralegal or legal assistant for attorneys who represent parents

When you hire an advocate, you must make certain that the advocate will represent your interests -- now and in the future. Check the advocate out carefully. Your child's future may depend upon it.

Finding a Special Education Advocate


Is there a certification, licensure, or Code of Professional Responsibility or Ethics Code for special education advocates?


No. There is currently no system in place to certify or otherwise regulate special education advocates. Parents must carefully choose a special education advocate because there are no standards or regulations.

Special Education Consulting and Pat Howey have developed a draft Model Code for special education advocates and is soliciting comments on this draft.

This draft adopts heavily from the Model Rules developed by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations. Please review the comments accompanying the Model Code and submit your comments and suggestions to:

The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA, is also looking into developing a Model Code or Model Rules.

Several groups are looking at regulating or certifiying special education advocates. The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates COPAA,, in cooperation with the University of Southern California, hosts a Special Education Advocate Training (SEAT) program. This is not a licensure or certification program.

Until there are rules and some type of certification for special education advocates, the motto of parents should be, "Let the buyer beware."

Finding a Special Education Parent Attorney or Advocate


How can I make sure that the parent attorney or special education advocate I contact is experienced and knowledgeable?


The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates provides information to parents that is designed to help them find experiened and knowledgeable parent attorneys and advocates. Go to: Click the link, "Find an attorney/advocate." On the left sidebar, COPAA has provided links to help parents choose experienced and knowledgeable parent attorneys and advocates.

Finding a Special Education Advocate


The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates website does not list any advocates or attorneys in my State. I have contacted the nearest attorneys and advocates and they cannot recommend anyone to help me. What do I do now?


Another resource is Wrightslaw's Yellow Pages for Kids website:

At Wrightslaw's Yellow Pages, you may find attorneys or advocates who are not listed at the COPAA website. Yellow Pages for Kids has resources for each State. Listings are free.

If you are a special education advocate or parent attorney who is not listed at Yellow Pages, click the link at the bottom of the page to submit your information.

Finding a Special Education Advocate


I need a special education advocate. How do I go about finding one in my State?


The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, COPAA, has a list of attorneys and advocates at their website: Click the link, "Find and Attorney/Advocate."

Keep in mind that not all States have COPAA attorneys or advocates. Contact an attorney or advocate in a State closest to where you live. If that attorney or advocate cannot help you, he or she might be able to refer you to another one who can help you.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What can I do if the school does not provide IEP services?


My child is not receiving all of the services outlined in her IEP. What can I do about this?


Your school must provide the services in your child's IEP. When this does not happen, you can file a State complaint. You may want to reconvene the IEP Team first to try to address this issue. It is always better to try to resolve issues at the local level, if possible.


Occupational Therapy is in my child's Individualized Education Plan. Sometimes the Occupational Therapist provides services to my child and sometimes she does not. Occupational Therapy services are inconsistent. My child has made very little progress in handwriting in the last four years. Can I ask the school to pay for my child's private Occupational Therapy in our home since it failed to provide the services in his Individualized Education Plan?


Schools have the right to use their own staff. If the Occupational Therapist has not provided services in your child's Individualized Education Plan you could argue that the school should pay for your private Occupational Therapy. These would be services to compensate your child for the school's failure to see that the IEP services were provided.

It would be best if you find a local advocate or attorney to help you with this problem. Go to: and click the link "find an attorney/advocate."

Also, if you can attend a Wrightslaw seminar you will learn how to address problems like this.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Parents' Right to Copies of Education Records


I recently requested my child's entire Cumulative & Confidential file. I asked for copies of all records, including testing. The school did not send any of the tests it used when my child was evaluated. There seems to be other items missing. Why did I not receive everything?


Parents have a right to inspect and review all of their child’s education records relating to identification, evaluation, educational placement, and provision of a free appropriate public education. Parents do not have a right to copies of their child’s education records unless not having copies of the records keeps the parent from inspecting and reviewing the records.

Many schools agre to give parents copies of their child’s education records. When a school does this, it may charge parents for the copies. Your State may not allow your school to charge for its staff to find and copy records.

Test protocols are the actual instruments used to test a child. These are education records and a parent has the right to inspect and review them. Psychologist frown upon copying test protocols because this could compromise the integrity of the tests. If you have a private psychologist, you can ask the school to send copies of the protocols to your psychologist.

Parents often do not receive complete files from the school when they ask for them. School staff may not know exactly where all of a child's files are kept. Schools often keep many different files on a child and these files are often in different locations. For example, the speech therapist often carries each child's files with him or her.

There can be as many as twelve different “files” on a specific child. Sometimes the person who is assigned to copy a child’s file is not aware that there are so many files or that there are many different locations.

If you believe items other than test protocols are missing from your child, here is what you can do:

· Make a “grocery list” of the files you think are missing.

· Send a note to the person who took your original request for records saying that you did not receive all of the records you requested.

· Attach a copy of your original request and your “grocery list” as an example of the records you think are missing.

· Sign and date your note. Keep a copy for your own records.

· Wait about a week. If you do not receive a response after a week, send another note. Attach a copy of everything you have sent before.

· Provide two or three dates and times you can come in to look at your child’s records.

· Consider taking a small scanner and notebook computer. You can save money by scanning the records into your computer.


Am I entitled to a copy of my child’s evaluation report?


Yes. IDEA 2004, Section 300.306(a)2) requires schools to give parents a free copy of the evaluation report. Schools must also give parents a free copy of any papers that determine their child’s eligibility for special education and related services.

Schools must provide parents with these free reports in time for the parents to be able to prepare for their child’s IEP meeting. IDEA 2004 does not specify a timeline as to when schools must provide parents with these free reports. States may determine their own timelines.


How soon after I ask to review my child’s education records must the school allow me to do so?


IDEA 2004, Section 300.613(a) requires schools to allow parents to inspect and review their child’s education records without unnecessary delay and no more than 45 days after the parent has made the request.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Modifications, Accommodations, Adaptions, v. Special Instruction


My child has a 504 Plan. She is supposed to have a reader and a scribe for classroom assignments and tests. Can she also have a reader and a scribe when she takes the Graduation Qualifying Examination (GQE)?


It is that time of year again. Across the nation, classes are beginning. Parents are looking at IEPs and 504. Parents often ask questions about accommodations.


Accommodations are services or items that schools provide to adjust for a child’s disability. Accommodations never take the place of special instruction. Too often, that is exactly what happens.

Children with disabilities have a right to special instruction. Schools must teach child with disabilities.

Schools often suggest readers and scribes for children do not read or write well. This is all well and good as long as the school also provides reading and writing instruction. Schools often suggest accommodations instead of special instruction.

Most children can learn to read and write. For a child who can learn to read and right, readers and scribes are supposed to supplement instruction, not take its place. Schools should provide accommodations to a child with low reading and writing levels while the child receves instruction in reading and writing.

Accommodations supplement instruction. They accompany each other. Instruction and accommodations go hand in hand.

Children who learn to read and write do not need for readers and scribes. Schools that provide proper instruction are fulfilling the mission of IDEA 2004: They are preparing children for further education, employment, and independent living. 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)

What about Modifications and Adaptations?

The same thing is true with modifications and adaptations. Modifications and adaptations change or adjust lessons and curriculum to meet the child’s unique needs. Modifications and adaptations do not replace instruction.

Examples of modifications and adaptations include

  • Enlarging text, lessons, and worksheets for a child with a visual impairment
  • Modifying a curriculum to adjust for the child’s disability.
  • Supplying a child with a hearing impairment with an FM Receiver

Waiving worksheets is not an option. That lowers the bar for the child. Watering down the course work does not prepare the child for adult life in the adult world.

Modification, adaptations, and accommodations do not provide unfair advantages. They do not make things easier. They should level the playing field for the child. They allow a child with a disability to learn the same things as his non-disabled peers. The child does the same work, but in a different way.

Back to the parent's question about accommodations on the Graduation Qualifying Exam (GQE):

The parent’s concern is whether this child should have a reader and a scribe. This tells us this child cannot read or write well enough to take the GQE without accommodations.

The more important question is why the school has not taught this child to read and write. She may pass the GQE with the aid of a reader and a scribe. She may earn a high school diploma. Can she go to college, live on her own, and earn a living?

This child needs special instruction. That is the battle this parent must fight.

Read what Pete Wright has to say about accommodations:,

Read what Sue Heath has to say about accommodations and high stakes testing:

Read what Pat Howey has to say about modifications:
Some children with disabilities need accommodations and modifications in their special education programs.
This 4 page printer-friendly PDF article defines accommodations and modifications and gives examples for books, curriculum, instruction, assignments, and behavior.

Remember that denying the accommodations and modifications that will allow the child equal access to an education is a denial of the child's right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Learn more here.

Requesting a Due Process Hearing


How do I request a due process hearing?


Each State must provide parents with a model form to request a due process hearing. You can usually find these forms and much more at your State's Department of Education, Division of Special Education's website.

You should consult an attorney before you even ask this question. A hearing is a mini-legal proceedings. In some states, hearings take days, weeks, or even months to finish. Hearings involve exhibits, subpoenas, examination and cross-examination of witnesses, opening statements, closing arguments, legal briefs and arguments. Parents must have some knowledge of legal proceedings in order to be able to effectively advocate for their child in a hearing.

To find an attorney, go to: and click the link "Find and attorney or an advocate." Contact the attorney closest to you. Keep in mind that the closest attorney may be in another state.

You can also go to: Sometimes you can find a parent attorney here.