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.
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 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!”
Disability Rights California is a non-profit organization with a mission “…to advance dignity, equality, independence and freedom for all Californians with disabilities.” It provides information and advocacy.
DRC, explains on their front page, some of the services they provide:
- Direct representation in criminal law, family law, bankruptcy or evictions
- Personal injury lawsuits
- Filling out Social Security application forms
- Obtaining guardianship or conservatorship
More specific details on how they serve, and who they help, are explained on their eligibility page
For information on how to contact them at a local office, see here.
If you are advocating for yourself or someone else, the website features the Special Education Rights and Responsibilities (SERR) manual loaded with information on specific rights and how they apply in different situations. We use this site for training here at CSNLG and find it one of our top resources.
This PDF has a link to all their resources. It is a bit overwhelming though.
In general, the website is loaded with links and options and the organization of it all can be hard to follow. It takes some time to “learn” how the site is organized and the areas that are best for your situation.
DRC has a social media presence, and if that is a preferred source for you, be sure to check out them out:
With the start of the 2017-2018 school year well on its way, I have noticed more due process filings by school districts against families.
A due process hearing means either party, in this case, the districts, are asking the court system to intervene and make a ruling.
While this might sound alarming at first, it is often legally necessary for school districts to take such drastic actions. The law is clear that when parents request public funding of independent educational evaluations (IEE’s) the school district must fund the assessments or file for due process to show their own assessments are appropriate. The legal standard for assessment compliance is low and the courts are routinely finding district assessments comply with the law.
As such, school districts are filing more often.
Interestingly, and unfortunately, districts sometimes file for due process even when they know their assessments are not defensible. There is a clear strategy for them here: It helps them enter into a settlement agreement to fund the requested IEEs and thereby insulate themselves from liability. They add waiver language to the proposed agreement.
School districts are also filing more often to defend the appropriateness of their IEP offer. While the law merely states the school district may file to enforce its IEP, court decisions have recently come out holding districts liable if they do not file for due process. The ruling expects them to seek judicial intervention in overriding a parent’s lack of consent to necessary educational services. In other words, if parents do not fully consent to the proposed IEP, and the District believes the services are necessary, they are required to file for due process.
This is an unfortunate development in the law because it now elevates an IEP dispute to the litigation level. Parents are practically forced to hire an attorney to defend against the school district’s lawsuit.
Sadly, a recent court case has also called into question whether families can be represented at the administrative court level by educational advocates. For families who could not afford an attorney and advocate is a much less expensive option.
This appears to no longer be the case.
It is strange that the state of California is taking such an aggressive stance against parents who have children with special needs. With the increased filings against families, the shrinking of options parents have to defend themselves, California is moving backward.
If your school district ever files for due process against you it is important to seek legal advice on how to move forward. Regardless if you hire an attorney or not, you should at least contact an attorney who specializes in special education law and obtain a clear understanding of your rights. The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) has a list of low cost and free attorneys you can use to find a law firm that you feel comfortable working with.
As always, we are happy to help too.
Marcus, a hard-working father of four children, describes the determination of his nine-year-old son building a full-size Batmobile by dumping out all of the Legos he had accumulated over the years and designing it on his own. Despite the fact that his son was told his family could not afford the expensive kit, he persisted by deciding he could make what he wanted using photos he found online. Imagine the pride and satisfaction of accomplishing what others would not even fathom undertaking.
Now, fast forward to six years later and see that same, determined, bright, teenage boy spending countless hours every day of the week to grasp the most basic and fundamental skills in reading, spelling, and writing. Who was there to help? Did anyone, such as staff, recognize a problem or diagnosis to help him excel as he brilliantly did with those Legos? If so, was there anyone trained in effectuating this assistance? Unfortunately, this was not the case for Adam. Fortunately, he did not give up and even without proper assistance managed to complete as many tasks he could.
This story pertains to the student in California’s Office of Administrative Hearings’ (landmark decision, (July 2017)). The names are fictional. This case demonstrates the dangers of districts not providing appropriate training with regard to Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs) by pertinent staff including teachers all the way up the principal. A lack of training withholds our children’s federal right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
The 2017 Guidelines (CDG) state, “Although the problems experienced by students with dyslexia may originate with neurobiological differences, the most effective treatment for these students and for those who struggle with related reading and language problems is skilled teaching. For that reason, it is critical that educators receive accurate and current information about evidence-based instructional strategies.”
In the case mentioned above, the court voted in favor of Adam, that 15-year-old teenage boy, hereby granting and ordering a long list of remedies. The Court recognizes the failures of the District but does not blame it per se. It further states that “school districts may be ordered to provide compensatory education or additional services to a student who has been denied a FAPE but … the award must be fact-specific.” Compensation may not always get to the student directly in monetary form but instead in services.
The court further states, that the IDEA can satisfy the compensatory remedy by staff training. The decision goes on to discuss the importance of appropriate goals and services to meet Student’s unique needs in the areas of reading, spelling, and writing. For Student’s needs in this case it would be one hour per day of instruction in Orton-Gillingham, or the Slingerland method each school day or the equivalent thereof. These are the methods most effective for dyslexia.
The CDG suggests standards for reading teachers that have been developed by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) and the types of educators who can serve students with dyslexia and includes a list of salient personnel to obtain and use this knowledge. It emphasizes, “There is a great need for all educators and related service providers to be prepared to meet the needs of students with dyslexia, including speech-language pathologists, school psychologists, school counselors, school administrators, and paraprofessionals.”
Yes there is a way to help our children. Fortunately, in California, the decision along with CDG guidelines will help rectify wrongdoings mostly unbeknownst to district personnel. With this knowledge, now is the time to be informed and help our students overcome these tremendous barriers to an appropriate education. It is more expensive for districts not to abide by these words of wisdom. As a single mother of a 6-year-old boy struggling with similar obstacles, I feel blessed knowing that he can and will have appropriate services.
If he does not, I have the knowledge to pursue and advocate for him. With diligence, adherence to authority and guidelines, and patience we can do right by our children with SDLs and there will be no one left to blame.
La Jolla is a beautiful neighborhood just north of San Diego with seven miles of magnificent, curving coastline dotted with gorgeous beaches. Although it maintains a separate zip code and status as a city, it is still a part of the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) where many other valuable resources for special education can be found.
Educational Resources for Special Needs Professionals and Families
La Jolla High School has a total of six staff members dedicated to serving those with special needs in their department. Within the SDUSD, there is also La Jolla Elementary School for the younger students, but again, more extensive and in-depth resources can be found in neighboring San Diego.
The Special Education Department of the SDUSC includes a Parent’s Resource page, which provides support to families of children with special needs that includes a parent’s helpline. There are links to resources throughout the district, calendar of events, workshops and support for parents as well as siblings. The IEP (Individual Education Plan) Parent Satisfaction Survey Form, Procedural Safeguards and Overviews are all available in several languages.
Resources and Assistance Outside of the San Diego District
The San Diego County Office of Education employs a Special Education Unit that provides specialized services for students with special needs and disabilities throughout the County. In addition to services for the students, they also provide support, coordination and assistance to the six SELPA’s (Special Education Local Plan Areas) within the County including the school districts, agencies and families.
The HOPE Infant Family Support Program offers services to infants and toddlers with special needs from birth to three years of age. Part of the California Early Start program, their no cost services provide home programs, family support, consultation services, social and behavioral support for those eligible infants and toddlers.
The Poway Unified School District, PUSD, has around two-thirds of their schools located within San Diego County to provide resources to students and parents. Their Special Education Department website has numerous links for the parents of primary and secondary students that include:
- A parental handbook with detailed IEP information
- Health services
- Preschool assessment
- A Community Advisory Committee (CAC)
- WorkAbility and Transition Partnership Program
The PUSD also has a link to information about the exemption for students with special needs from passing the California High School Exit Examination. PUSD even has their own non-profit organization, the PUSD Special Education Foundation to help fund the gap between where tax dollars fall short and what parents can provide for their special needs children.
Based in Costa Mesa, the California Special Needs Law Group (CSNLG) offers legal advice and support for parents of children with special needs. Most notably, they provide assistance with conflict resolution and Individualized Education Programs (IEP) not only in Costa Mesa and Orange County, but all across the state.
Another Valuable Non-Profit for Resources and Assistance
The Special Needs Foundation of San Diego is “Dedicated to the families and professionals who care for children with special needs and advocate on their behalf.”
They have combined the many resources available in the community into a single location on their Resource List that support specific disabilities and diagnoses and also categorized by area of need. This comprehensive list of resources includes behavioral, education and health resources located in San Diego and beyond.
More than just resources and services, their website contains helpful articles, research updates and videos as well as event calendars that highlight upcoming conferences, seminars, lectures and other demonstrations. Often this information is directed at parents, professionals and other caregivers that offers data, practical advice and tips directed towards specific types of disorders, illnesses and disabilities.
Chula Vista, California, is one of the largest cities in the San Diego area. While the city has many resources for special education teachers, parents and students, residents can also look to nearby San Diego, about ten miles northwest of Chula Vista, for relevant organizations and agencies.
In addition to public education districts and offices, special education resources are offered by nonprofit and community organizations.
Chula Vista Special Education Resources
The Chula Vista Elementary School District provides links to a Special Education Parent Handbook and the IEP Process on its website. Both documents are presented in English and Spanish. Parents can also access a video about the district’s preschool special education services.
The Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista has an Autism Team consisting of special education teachers, a speech pathologist, psychologist and occupational therapist. Through the school district, parents can find outpatient mental health counseling services for emotionally disturbed students. Day treatment services and a transition program are also provided.
The San Diego County Office of Education oversees four county Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs), including the South County SELPA which encompasses the Chula Vista school district. The South County SELPA has a Community Advisory Committee that offers parent awareness and education workshops and conferences. The SELPA also provides training in instructional strategies, behavioral support, IEP development and inclusive classroom practices for special education teachers.
Special Education Recreational, Social and Legal Support for Parents and Students
From camps to support groups, special education parents and students in Chula Vista can find programs and other resources designed to raise awareness, provide information and help students build social skills.
Autism Society San Diego offers parent support meetings as well as numerous activities, such as swimming and camps, for autistic students. The Society provides a lending library consisting of books and videos about autism/Asperger’s at the Exceptional Family Resource Center (EFRC), which has locations in San Diego and Chula Vista.
EFRC also co-sponsors various support groups for parents of children with autism, ADD, Down syndrome and developmental disorders. Some of these support groups meet in Chula Vista or nearby areas.
San Diego County CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) holds support group meetings in San Diego and Chula Vista. CHADD also offers virtual conferences, online chats and blogs.
Motiva Associates, based in Chula Vista, provides in-home early and behavioral intervention programs for children with autism and developmental disorders.
Some San Diego-based organizations providing therapy services, social skills programs and parent support and mentoring groups include:
- Xcite Steps
- Include Autism
- Autism Tree Project Foundation
- The Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD)
Legal advice or support for special education parents is provided by California Special Needs Law Group (CSNLG). The law firm is based in Costa Mesa but offers its services, which include conflict mediation and IEP development assistance, throughout the state.