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Overview

A special education advocate is an individual who works on your behalf to help you secure services for your child. Some advocates work for free, while others charge a fee for services. They have varying degrees of experience and many have a child themselves with special needs.

An advocate is much less expensive than an attorney and is the next step up from handling the case yourself.  Fees for an advocate may be recoverable if a settlement hearing occurs.

Sample of services

  • Listen to your situation and help you clarify your child’s needs
  • Attend IEP meetings with you
  • Draft correspondence with the district
  • Suggest and explain services available through your district
  • Explain how the FAPE process works at your district
  • Attend mediation and hearings as your representative
  • Others?
  • Recommend support groups, other parents, and specialists

Questions you should ask

  • Have you been through the IEP process yourself as a parent?
  • What types of cases have you worked on?
  • What is your educational background?
  • Have you been through any advocate training programs?
  • Do you work for or under an attorney?
  • Describe your role when during an IEP meeting.
  • What do you enjoy and not enjoy about being an advocate?

Additional Resources

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.

Special Education in San Jose

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.

Special Education in San Jose

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:

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.

Steps to Consider Before Contacting a Special Education Attorney

Having a child with special needs can be trying, but as a parent, you likely believe that your child’s school is doing what they can to help. Unfortunately, there are times when a school just doesn’t pull its weight when it comes toeducating special needs children.

When it becomes apparent that your child isn’t receiving the experience that they need, it may be time to consult with a special education attorney; the only question is: when is enough enough? Going through the process of interviewing and–eventually–hiring the candidate right for your situation can seem like a daunting task, but it’s vital to the effectiveness of your choices to keep in mind just what a special education attorney can do. They can be equal parts friend, mentor, advisor, and bodyguardI. n the end, they stand with you and your family.

Before you hire a special education attorney, use these tips to try and help your child get the education they deserve.

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Talk to Your Child

Before you do anything, it’s important to talk to your child whenever possible about conditions at school. In some cases you may be able to work with your children to simply change their situation or understand more about what’s going on.

Of course this may not work with all children in special needs classes, but if you can have an open dialogue with your child about their education you should attempt to do so. Some problems – ones your child definitely cannot resolve even with your help – don’t require this step.

Speak with Your Child’s Teacher

Problems at school for your child often begin in the classroom. While many special education teachers do everything they can to help students, they do make mistakes and there may be times when they are not aware of your child’s particular learning difficulties.

Taking time to talk with your child’s teacher may help clarify a problem, and see that it gets special attention in the classroom. You’ll need to set a meeting with your teacher and request progress reports in the future to make sure changes have been implemented, especially if you feel your child wasn’t getting proper attention before.

Work with School Administrators

Serious problems with your child’s education may not need the help of a teacher and there may not be anything that they can do. Examples include overcrowded classrooms, or simply poor instructors who aren’t working properly with your child or other children in class.

When this happens you’ll want to go right to your child’s school’s administrator. Explain your problems and let them know that if they aren’t resolved in a timely fashion that you will have to move your child and discuss your issues with the school board.

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Contact the School Board

Contacting the school board should generally be your last resort to correct a situation in your child’s school. These types of meetings should be reserved for major issues that even school administrators may not be able to work out – like teachers not showing up for classes orpoor treatment of students.

It may take some time to get a meeting with your child’s school board, so make sure you let them know you want one as soon as you are aware of a serious problem.

Inherently, school teachers and administrators desire to teach. They want to help children to see their full potential. In some cases, however, this isn’t the case. A special education attorney can help your special needs child get the education that they deserve using the world continuing education alliance. While most school administrators and teachers want to do a good job there are some bad eggs and just plain bad systems that need to be dealt with.

Most children spend the majority of their day in a public school setting, so there is an important responsibility  placed on schools for their role in the children’s lives. With a responsibility that nature, there is also a large possibility of disputes arising over a variety of situations, school actions which if handled poorly can lead to lawsuits and big Pharma class actions filed against the school district.

Bullying and Harassment

In the case of bullying and harassment, is is inaction, or failure to prevent or stop the bullying, for which school districts are most often sued. Each state has different laws regarding what school districts are required to do or not do, there are several things every school should do that will increase the safety and wellbeing of its students, as well as prevent potential lawsuits.

These steps include:

Assessing Bullying in the School

Find out when, where and how often bullying is occurring. This can be done through official surveys, asking general questions and performing subtle observations when students interact. Conduct this survey at least once a year, and ensure that respondents’ information will be kept private at all times.

Engaging the Community

Campaign in the community to increase awareness of what bullying is and how to end it. Parents should be treated as partners in the process of helping students feel safe at school.

Establish a Safe School Environment

Nurture a culture of tolerance and acceptance in all aspects of the school, from teachers’ meetings to the PTA to students’ group projects. Draw up a list of rules for treatment of others in the school that must be followed by everyone at all times. Monitor areas where bullying often occurs, and enlist school staff in keeping an eye on student interactions.

Discrimination

Lawsuits are also filed against schools for discrimination, especially in regards to students in special education programs. Discrimination can occur in many areas- admissions, grading, class placement and personal instruction, among others. Because it covers such a wide span of potential issues,  it highlights the importance of school districts treating each student equally, and providing extra help to those who require it.

Retaliation

School districts can also be sued for retaliation, as in the case of Pamella Settlegoode v. Portland Public Schools. Ms. Settlegoode was a physical education teacher who was struck by the inequalities in services for her students with disabilities. After advocating for these students, the school retaliated by firing her and blackballing her from gaining employment at any other area school. After the difficult trial, she was awarded one million dollars.

Interference with Right

Interference with a student’s constitutional rights are also grounds for a lawsuit against a school district. Whether a student’s rights have been violated is determined by what is called the “Tinker test,” after the landmark case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. In this case, the court ruled that the first amendment applied to public schools, and that the school could not restrict students’ free speech unless it was proven to be disruptive to education. The Tinker test is now applied in all instances in which a school district is accused of limiting free speech.

To learn more about school districts and legal proceedings, take a look at the cases mentioned. For school districts to avoid being involved in lawsuits, they must take exacting steps to ensure each student and staff member feels safe, receives the best education possible (if a student), is not targeted in any way by the school, and is not deprived of any constitutional rights.

If you would like to get more information on these topics and more come to the Special Education Laws Made Simple Seminar Monday, May 19th in Orange, CA!

Your child’s education is rightly very important to you, so if ever any issues arise between you and the school, it’s important you know that there are special procedures in place for resolving disputes: mediation and due process hearings.

 

An initial response to a dispute is often mediation, where you and a school representative will meet with a neutral third party to discuss the issue. The mediator has no authority to impose a decision, and is there only to facilitate discussion in order to help you and the school reach an acceptable compromise. If you are not satisfied by the results of mediation, you may proceed to a due process hearing. If you are not interested in mediation at all, you may go directly to the due process hearing.

Every person in California is guaranteed due process by the state and federal Constitutions. Due process protects individuals’ rights, and in this case, specifically the rights of students in special education programs.

 

What is a Due Process Hearing?

 

It is an official, legal procedure meant to resolve differences between parents and their child’s school as concerns special education services and a free and appropriate public education. They are most often held over disagreements about a child’s evaluation, eligibility or placement, services such as aides and specialists, changes to a child’s IEP, or a child’s suspension. Both the parent and the school district have the right to file for a hearing. The party who files is responsible for proving whether the child’s rights are being respected.

 

How to Request a Due Process Hearing

 

Send a written request, called a Due Process Complaint, to the state and the school district. This must be filed within two years after you are aware of the issue. It must include:

  • Child’s name, address and school
  • Parental contact information
  • Description of the reason for requesting a hearing as relates to the child’s education
  • Proposed solution to the problem

It can also include the sections of federal and state codes that you believe have been violated.

 

You may increase your chance of success by hiring a lawyer or special education advocate, though legal costs can add up very quickly. The school district is not required to pay your legal fees.

 

However, filing a Due Process Complaint can incur fees and added stress, so it is wise to only go this route if absolutely necessary. You should always try every available opportunity for mediation and collaboration with the school district before resorting to filing for a due process hearing.

 

During the Due Process Procedure

 

After filing a Due Process Complaint, the student has the right to stay in his or her current placement and use the current IEP.

 

Since this can be a very stressful time, do all you can to stay organized and informed of the events. Be able to clearly define the school’s position and reasoning, as well as your concerns and proposed resolutions so as to hopefully avoid becoming overly emotional in the hearing. Most importantly, rather than getting caught up in the red tape, remember why you’re doing it- to help your child get the best education possible.

 

Timeline of the Procedure

 

 

After the parent files a request for a due process hearing

Within 10 days: the school must offer a resolution meeting or agree to proceed with the hearing.

Within 15 days: the school district must notify if it is challenging the complaint’s sufficiency, offer a resolution meeting, or agree to go forward with the hearing.

Within 75 days: the Office of Administrative Hearings decision must issue a decision.

 

If mediation is requested, this will occur approximately 35 days after the filing date. The due process hearing will usually be held about 55 days after the request is filed, and a prehearing conference will be scheduled one week earlier.

 

The Office of Administrative Hearings must issue a final decision within 45 days of the Due Process Hearing.

 

More Information
More guidance on preparing for and completing the Due Process Hearing is available from California’s Office of Administrative Hearings.

 

If you would like to get more information on these topics and more come to the Special Education Laws Made Simple Seminar Monday, May 19th in Orange, CA!

LRE, mainstreaming and inclusion are essential terms to know when working with a student in special education programs. These elements of students’ IEPs will determine how they spend their time at school, how they receive services and how they function within the school’s community, among many other things.

What is LRE?

 

LRE stands for Least Restrictive Environment, and it refers to the situation that will allow a special education student to receive the education most suited to his or her needs, while spending the most amount of time possible learning alongside their peers without disabilities. LRE dictates that separate classes should only be held for special education students if nature or severity of their disabilities preclude satisfactory education from occurring in a regular classroom.

LRE recognizes that for a child with disabilities to be educated appropriately in a regular educational environment, additional services and aids may be necessary, and indeed, can play a pivotal role in the child’s development. The addition of these resources is nearly always preferable to educating the child in a separate setting.

LRE guidelines also state that education for the child with special needs is to be “achieved satisfactorily.” This language is not vague with the intention of permitting these students to receive subpar education; on the contrary, it allows each child’s IEP team to determine what constitutes satisfactory results for the student.

These standards benefit special education students by allowing them to learn with their peers in a cohesive environment, rather than learning in a separate space that distances them from their fellow students.

What is mainstreaming?

 

Mainstreaming is the term used to describe integrating students with disabilities into regular learning environments. Mainstreamed students have high potential for success, but it is vital that they receive support personalized for their needs by their IEP team. It is bringing special education services to the child rather than removing the child from the regular classroom.

Benefits of mainstreaming often include higher academic success, increased self-esteem and more astute social skills.

What is inclusion?

Inclusion is the process of mainstreaming a student to comply with LRE. For students with disabilities, advantages to this process are the opportunity to form friendships with their peers from whom they would have been separated if educated in a separate classroom. It allows students with disabilities to interact with non-disabled students to the benefit of all; they will all learn how to work together, gaining invaluable skills for the future. Students taught in a classroom with inclusion will learn to be more accepting and respectful of people from different backgrounds.

Additionally, families of students with disabilities will be able to integrate more easily into the community of the school, creating those relationships between parents that lead to friendships between children and more opportunities for socializing.

Who decides where the child is placed?

The decision for where the child will be educated is up to his or her IEP team, of which the child should also be a part, when they have reached a suitable level of maturity.  The IEP team will consider the student’s academic and social history, goals and specific needs.

Placement can be changed whenever it is decided that the current situation is not beneficial to the student, or can be improved in any way.

Why are these terms important?

With LRE guidelines, mainstreaming and inclusion, special education students are poised to receive the most effective and appropriate education possible. Everyone involved in a student’s IEP team should be knowledgeable of the processes and advantages involved in LRE.

If you would like to get more information on these topics and more come to the Special Education Laws Made Simple Seminar Monday, May 19th in Orange, CA!

Do you think all children should receive the same education, regardless of individual strengths and weaknesses?

Probably not, and thankfully neither does the US Congress. In fact, it’s required to compose an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for every student in a special education course to ensure they are learning in the way that is most effective for them. IEPs serve an important purpose, so let’s take a look at how to make them most beneficial.

Team Meetings: Who, What, When, Why, and How to Make Them Successful

Who should be on a child’s IEP team?

  • A school district representative
  • The child’s regular education teacher, if he or she has one
  • The child’s special education teacher or provider
  • Parent or guardian of the child
  • The child!

The team meeting is held within 30 days of the decision that the child will be provided special education, and is an essential step in creating an effective IEP! Not only is it required before special education services will begin, it’s also where the student’s goals will be outlined, and where the services provided by the school district will be defined.

Parent Participation

No one knows the child better than the parents. Their knowledge and input is indispensable at this stage. Parents who are informed and involved both at school and home can make all the difference.

Process and Components

The school will set times for team meetings, during which the child’s IEP team will work together to create the IEP and organize its implementation. It’s important to have high expectations for the student and to establish achievable goals. Make sure the frequency of services is sufficient for the student to reach the goals, too!

What should be included in the IEP?

  • The child’s current level of achievement
  • Annual goals for the child
  • The special education services to be provided for the child
  • How much of the day the child will be in special education
  • How required assessments will be administered
  • Where and how often services will be provided, and for how long
  • How the child’s progress toward annual goals will be measured

 

IEP Implementation

This should occur as soon as possible after the team meeting! Follow up meetings can be scheduled for periodic checkups to ensure the IEP is serving its purpose, and to amend it if necessary.

Amending IEPs

Another meeting is not required in order to amend the IEP. The school and the child’s parents can draw up a written amendment, and all members of the committee must be informed of the changes.

Transition Requirements

Sweet 16! When the student reaches this age, it’s time to start making plans for life post-school. Whether that involves college, employment, independent living, or other options, this is a vital period for prevention of the student dropping out of high school, and also for setting up a successful future. Some transition services that can be included are instruction, vocational training, and life skills practice.

Extended School Year (ESY)

ESY programs are additional services provided outside the school day, be it in the hours after school or days during school breaks, such as summer vacation. The student’s need and eligibility for ESY will be determined by the IEP team, preferably during the initial IEP team meeting.

These programs are not necessarily a continuation of the special education programs, and are often focused on subjects such as reading instruction or speech therapy.

State laws vary regarding ESY programs, so make sure to learn the specifics for your area.

That’s a lot to know!

IEPs can be an overwhelming prospect, but remember that it won’t be set in stone, and can be changed as the child’s needs change, or even as the IEP team gains more knowledge. With a bit of work can be one of the most effective tools for the student’ s education. After all, its purpose is to help the child succeed, and that’s a cause everyone can support.

If you would like to get more information on these topics and more come to the Special Education Laws Made Simple Seminar Monday, May 19th in Orange, CA!

Any parent of a special needs child knows how stressful and even confusing it can be to navigate the sometimes murky waters of your school district’s special education system. Although schools today are much better equipped to handle children with special needs than they were in years past, sometimes it can still be a struggle to make sure you and your child’s needs are met and that everyone on all sides is happy.

If you’ve found yourself in a situation where you are having a hard time securing the education your child deserves,  the assistance of a special education advocate might be what you need to guide you through the deeper waters.

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What Is A Special Education Advocate?

A special education advocate is someone who is well-versed in special education. Maybe they are or were a special education teacher, or they have a degree in special education. Or it could be that they are a parent of a child with special needs who has gone through the education system, and now they want to help other parents by imparting on them what they have learned.

Many times having a special education advocate in your corner can be most helpful when working on the Individualized Education Program (IEP) for your student. The IEP is what determines the plan for your child’s education with the input and direction of everyone involved — parents, teachers, school administrators, and anyone else working for your child’s education — so that your child’s education goals are clearly set and everyone is on the same page.

Selecting A Special Education Advocate

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If you find you are in need of a special education advocate, how can you find one that is right for you and your family?

The first step would be to find a special education advocate in your area, and preferably one that is knowledgeable about the area you live in — either your state, county or city — and also has experience with the particular needs of your child. Some places to find potential special education advocates would be:

  • Your local school system, either your child’s school or school district, county school district, or even state board of education
  • A local parent group, such as the PTA
  • A local disability nonprofit or support group
  • Your child’s physician or counselor
  • Other parents of children who have special needs who have been through the IEP/special education process
  • A professional advocate group, such as the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, which has a searchable online directory.

Once you have found a potential special education advocate for your child, then it’s important to know what questions to ask them. Treat this as if you were hiring any other professional to help you and your family — the interview process is important!

5 Questions To Get You Started:
  1. What is their experience with special education, especially the district, county or state you live in?
  2. Do they have any special education training? How well versed are they in special education laws?
  3. What is their experience with your child’s particular special needs?
  4. Do they have an understanding of what your special education issues are, and how do they plan to solve them?
  5. What types of support will they offer the family (such as attending IEP meetings) and how much time will they be able to devote to you?

For more questions to ask and things to look for in a special education advocate, use COPAA’s Voluntary Code of Ethics for special education advocates for more ideas, and here are some other ideas from the Federation for Children with Special Needs.

The word “perfect” can be a bit of a misnomer. Most people know that rarely anything or anyone in this world is truly “perfect.” However, that doesn’t mean that perfection can’t be achieved, especially when it comes to special education.

For parents and caregivers of children with special needs, finding the perfect learning experience for them can be quite a challenge, and it can depend on a few different factors.

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The Needs of the Child

Children with learning disabilities or speech impediment may only need an education curriculum that only has them receiving special education a few hours a day or week. On the other end of the spectrum, students with severe physical or mental disabilities may need a much more intensive special education curriculum that encompasses their entire educational year.

The Needs of the Parent

The parents of children with special needs have their own ideas on how they wish their child to learn. For example, some caregivers may wish their child to have an inclusive education where they spend as much time in a classroom with peers of all abilities as they can. And other parents may want their student with special needs to have a more individualized education where they can get the one-on-one attention they need.

The School System

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Some schools can easily embrace the needs and wants of both special education students and their caregivers as they have enough special education staffing and programs in plus. However, some school systems may be smaller with not as many resources, and they may have a harder time making this happen.

So with all these factors in play, how can parents and teachers work together to make the “perfect” special education curriculum for their child? Here’s a few tips to help you get started.

Work Together

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s so important it’s worth spelling out. One of the most important parts of creating the perfect special education curriculum is for everyone involved — parents, caregivers, teachers, school administrators, and even students — to work together. If a curriculum is developed by only one party, and it ends up not meeting the needs of everyone involved, then it will certainly fall short of being “perfect.” Everyone having a say and working together is key.

Review & Discuss

Nine out of 10, your local school system will already have a special education curriculum in place. However, that does not mean it should not be reviewed and discussed by everyone involved on a regular basis to make sure it’s meeting everyone’s needs. Consider establishing a Parent Advisory Committee with parents of children with special needs representing different districts, such as what they have at Wayne County RESA in Michigan.

Use Available Resources

There are tons of resources out there today that can help both parents and teachers build the “perfect” special education curriculum for their students. For example, teachers will find a wealth of information at the National Center for Learning Disabilities, everything from creating a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to classroom strategies. And for parents, again the National Center for Learning Disabilities has a variety of information, including intervention strategies, parent-teacher communications, and tips for school meetings.

For a few years now, there has been an online movement to create a national Special Education Week in March. Although the movement has yet to take hold, we ask — why not?

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There are lots of national awareness days, weeks, and even months. For instance, American Education Week is in November, and ADHD Awareness Month is in October, and National Teacher Day this year will be celebrated on May 6.

So why not then have a Special Education Week? Or a Special Education Teacher Day? Sure we can be included in more generic education celebrations, but why can’t our community have one time a year to honor those that do so much for children with special needs?

A Special Education Week would be a great opportunity to not only celebrate all the progress we have made to bettering our children’s education, but also to turn the attention of our country’s citizens and lawmakers to the issues in special education that still need to be addressed today.

And a Special Education Week does not have to be national to be a benefit. Something on a state, county or even more local level — even as simple as your city’s school district — can potentially have a huge impact in bringing much-needed awareness to the needs of special education, which in turn could possibly lead to funding and other assistance from community members.

So how does one work towards starting a Special Education Week? Here’s a few tips to get you started:

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Plan Your Campaign

Once you’ve decided how big you want your Special Education awareness campaign to be, you will need to start putting together materials to promote your campaign and make the community aware. Materials can include posters, banners, press releases, a Facebook page — use your creativity! DoSomething.org has some great tips on how to get your campaign going, and 501Connect.com offers some strategies on promoting your project on social media. And if you’re really looking to spread the word about your awareness campaign, consider using an online campaign website like Causes or CrowdRise, both of which may also help you raise funding.

Talk to Parents & Teachers

Although it may not seem it, building an awareness campaign like this can take quite a lot of time. Make sure to talk to other like-minded parents to get their help and support so you can divvy up all the components of the project and not become overwhelmed. And 9 times out of 10, the special education teachers in your school district will want to help as well. Plus you don’t want to miss out on all the great ideas and feedback other parents and teachers can bring to the benefit of the campaign!

Talk to Lawmakers

Find out who your elected officials are and contact their office to make an appointment to come in and talk to them about your awareness campaign. If you live within close proximity of your state’s capitol, consider banding together with a group and hold a Legislative Day where you walk through your state’s capitol wearing T-shirts with your message to meet with elected officials. And don’t forget to bring some of your campaign materials to leave in the offices!