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Special Education Teacher, Parent and Advocate, Adrienne Oliviera, Shares Her Stories From Both Sides of the Table

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Why Are We Still Fighting For A Little Girl’s Voice?

I am currently in the process of preparing for a due process hearing and still shaking my head at how we got here.

First, though, I need to tell you about Sara. Sara is a beautiful 11-year-old girl who is deaf. She also suffers from multiple medical issues which require her to have a feeding tube and a broviac central line connected to her heart. She currently attends a special day class where she enjoys learning and being part of the school community.

Her sole mode of communication, in essence her voice, is American Sign Language (ASL).

The two main issues the school district is fighting us on go to the core of Sara’s communication:

  • Does the sign language interpreter for student have to be qualified?
  • Allowing the parents to communicate with the interpreter. Yes, you read that right.

How are these even issues? Of course the sign language interpreter has to be qualified. Her sole purpose is to translate the spoken word to sign language so this beautiful little girl, who happens to be deaf, can access her education.  And of course her parents want to chat with the interpreter from time to time to ask those basic questions like “How was Sara’s day?”

Although the IEP clearly states, a full-time American Sign Language interpreter, the district is providing two unqualified aides, calling them signing assistants.

Can you imagine if this was a Spanish or English Interpreter? In any world outside of education would an interpreter be provided who was not fluent in the languages they were interpreting?  Of course not. Also, sign language is the only mode of communication this little girl will ever have. Unlike our English language learners who slowly develop the appropriate language skills, Sara will never hear. She will always use sign language. For her schooling, she will always require an interpreter.

Of further concern is the district’s unwillingness to allow parents to talk with the “signing assistants” so they can learn the new signs Sara is working on. There are many different ways to sign the same word or action and it is important for the school staff and parents at home to use the same signs.

Apparently, her parents’ requests are a little too much for the school district, so we have ended up here… three weeks from going to trial.

Every couple of years I get a random case that ends up at trial for no reason. The last time I was in a trial it involved an eligibility issue. All we wanted was for the school to provide an IEP to address the student’s attention and sensory deficits. This included a reasonable request for sensory breaks. It would have cost the district no additional money but would have allowed us to monitor the student’s progress and make sure he was accessing his education. The district decided to go to hearing instead, where it tried, unsuccessfully, to show the student did not require an IEP.

So here I am again, facing another school district who has chosen to fight a family instead of providing what the law requires: an education to a young girl.

I understand there are many cases where there is a legitimate dispute over what a student needs to access their education. I rarely end up in trial on these cases. Instead, we work things out.

After several failed attempts to reach a settlement, I am now preparing my witness list and getting our evidence together for hearing.

I will spend around 100 hours preparing for and attending the hearing. The district will pay its legal counsel to do the same.  And, as you can imagine, lawyers are a lot more expensive than hiring a qualified sign language interpreter.

And all for what? So they can explain to a judge that this little girl does not require an interpreter who knows sign language?  What do you think the judge will think? I think I know.

These types of cases frustrate me and leave me shaking my head. This is not the battle we should be fighting. This is not the disagreement we should be having. Regardless, I will do everything I can to protect Sara’s civil and educational rights.

There is no way we are going to stop until Sara has a qualified interpreter and her parents are able to freely communicate with them.


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Should I Hire a Special Education Advocate? A Podcast Summary…



This post is a summary of a podcast done by Dr. Susan Burnett of CSNLG.  Listen to the podcast here.

I have lost count of how many times I have been asked by concerned friends if they should hire someone to help me navigate their child’s learning challenges. That typically is the first of many subsequent questions of a parent or guardian trying to seek the most effective way to help their child. The questions seem to be endless, especially when worrying about how to approach something that you are not an expert in.

IEP Meetings

IEP meetings are emotional for parents. Susan addresses these concerns and discusses what the experience of working with an advocate can look like. For example

  • IEP meetings can be friendly and not hostile. Susan provides a perspective on how to approach an IEP meeting.
  • The conflicts that arise in IEP meetings are typically between the district and the family.
  • The service providers and teachers only know what is offered at their school and not much past that.
  • A program specialist will know of more options available throughout the district.
  • The best approach in an IEP meeting is to remain friendly and solution focused.

Who or What Is an Advocate and How Much Do They Cost?

According to Susan, an advocate is someone who offers support and expertise.

  • Advocates try to resolve issues with the district and avoid needing an attorney.
  • Advocates are able to work on a case from the beginning of an issue or join in when the parents feel as if they have hit a wall with the system.

The expense of going through the process of figuring out what services your child is entitled to can be an overwhelming thought for many parents.  Susan addresses that parents want to know what sort of an investment they may be getting themselves into.

  • For advocates in Susan’s area of Southern Californi, the range is $150-$175 per hour.
  • Susan’s take is that it is safe to expect to spend around $1000 for case review, recommendations, and a couple of IEP meetings.
  • However, once it is decided that an attorney should be involved the costs will change.


Susan addressed all these concerns and offered insight on what emotions are involved in the process.

I know from personal experience that having support throughout the process made a difference for me. I had never taken the time to learn about special education services and was relieved when I had someone beside me that was so sophisticated in the areas of educational challenges that my son was faced with.

Susan says it perfectly in her podcast “knowledge is power!” 






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A Better Understanding of Our Sensory System and Sensory Integration With Dr. Susanne Smith Roley