Understanding Your Case
This is a transcript of Special Education Matters: Understanding Your Case, with host Michael Boll and CSNLG lead attorney Richard Isaacs. The podcast can be found here. This conversation focuses on understanding your case and the steps that are taken once you’re involved with an attorney.
00:02 Michael Boll: You’re listening to Special Education Matters, a regular podcast about things that matter in special education. I’m your host, Michael Boll, and I am the proud father of an 18-year old boy with autism. I’m here to introduce a special series we are running on our podcast, Special Education Matters. Our lead attorney, Richard Isaacs, and others will be discussing the process and steps that happen when a parent decides to work with us. In today’s show, California Special Needs Law Group attorney Richard Isaacs and I talk about the file review process, understanding the case and how best to proceed. Enjoy! Alright, today we are going to talk about after we’ve decided to work together, we’ve signed the retention agreement, we’ve requested information from the district, so the files have come in and parents have given any files or information that they have. And the first step for that next up is to complete a file review, so tell me about that.
00:56 Richard Isaacs: Sure. So the file review is our first look really into what’s going on with this situation. We have the intake call, we hear a family’s concerns, and then if we get involved, we request a cue file, the Special Education file, any other documents that the family may have, and we have to pour over those documents. We have to look at every assessment, every IEP, progress and goals, grades, really find out who the student is and get a good understanding of what’s missing in the file. If we need additional information, we will also fish out the early legal issues, meaning if the district has some procedural violations, implementation issues — things that we can leverage later down the road.
01:39 MB: Alright. After looking at all those legal issues and having understanding of what’s going on, what’s the next step? What do you talk to families about at that point?
01:47 RI: So after we complete the file review, it’s a really good opportunity to have another conversation with the families and explain our understanding of the case. Sometimes families come — they’re with high emotions and they know it’s not working, they just don’t know why, they don’t know what to do. After we review the file, we get a better understanding and we can actually start presenting solutions. It might be going out and getting assessments, it might be calling another IEP meeting, maybe having the district assess, and then we have to look at the long term goal. Where are we going? What are we actually trying to achieve? And sometimes we don’t know that at that early stage, and that’s where the outside assessments can come in and answer some of those questions.
02:24 MB: Let’s talk about those outside assessments. So in a sense, that’s a second opinion. And so you might, as a parent, go out and get an independent assessment from outside the school district, but with that, there might be a high cost for that. It takes time to get it done and those sorts of things. But at the same time, you’ve said that, or you can tell us that sometimes the districts will pay for it, other times we’d have to pay for it as a parent. And what are those two different situations?
02:48 RI: Just like any other attorneys or any other area of law, we need information. We need data which supports our side, and when we’re looking at the district’s assessments, every time the district assesses, parents have the right to request and disagree with those assessments and request that the district fund independent assessments, and the law refers to them as independent educational evaluations, “IEEs”, and you can request that the district fund those. When you request that the district funds the outside assessments, the district has only two choices. They can either fund that assessment or they can defend their assessment and say it’s appropriate, which means they actually have to file a lawsuit or due process complaint against the family.
03:34 MB: Oh, that’s kind of interesting. But what typically happens, so if you request an outside assessment what are the odds the school district’s going to say, sure, go ahead and do it, and what are the odds that they’re gonna say, no, you have to take ours?
03:47 RI: It really varies. And it really varies on the psychologist, the school district — I say psychologist, but it could be an OT assessment, a speech/language assessment — it really depends. There are some school districts that by far do really good assessments, and we may request them and if a district does file suit, we just dismiss our requests. It’s not worth fighting over. There are some assessments that we’ll look at and we could just tell on its face that it’s not appropriate, and it might be full of errors and may have not used enough assessments or gotten deep enough, and we feel pretty comfortable requesting the IEE. Sometimes assessments could go either way. What we’ll do at that point is we’ll have one of our experts that we use, our assessors that we use frequently take a look at it and see if they can find any issues with it and we can share that with the district of why we think they should pay for an outside assessment. It changes. It used to be much easier to get the district to fund assessments. They’re fighting us much more on that, which means they’re willing to go to hearing. And I think partly because nine out of ten parents will withdraw their request, it benefits the district to take a more aggressive approach.
04:56 MB: Alright, I see that. Even though we’re really this beginning stages here, this particular aspect can take a long time because we’re talking about doing the assessment, which takes its own time, and then actually implementing the assessment. How does that work? So I get an assessment done and then I ask the district to implement it, and then I wait six months? What is that, how does that look?
05:16 RI: Right, the assessing period is probably the most significant timeframe, and what drags these cases out the most. So when the district assesses, they by statute have 60 days to assess and review that assessment and the results and the recommendations at an IEP meeting. When a parent gets an outside evaluation, be it an IEE funded by the district or just privately funded, there’s no time frame there. Some of the really good experts you have to schedule out and it might take four months to complete that assessment. At which time you need to request an IEP meeting, you have to present the assessment at the IEP meeting because that’s where the district considers it. They don’t have to follow it, but they need to consider the findings and recommendations. So if the district needs to assess, that’s two months. If we have to go out and get our own assessments to better understand the students learning needs, that could take four to six months, and then we may have to trial the program, maybe the district’s going to offer something, and we don’t have evidence that it’s not appropriate, so the student needs to either have increased services or maybe a change of placement, and we need to trial it out. In the best case scenario we can run through things in about four months. Oftentimes, it’s about six months and the longer cases can actually take up to two years to really get all the information that we need. A second issue that we run into then is the district may want to reassess. So sometimes we get the outside assessments and then the district goes “Huh, that’s interesting. We want to assess as well.” and then that poses another two months as the district tags on at the end their own assessments, so it can get a little complicated, it can get a little long, but it’s a necessary part of moving forward.
06:55 MB: Alright, well, thanks so much. Next up we’re going start talking in the next show about finding solutions. Thanks for listening to another edition of Special Education Matters. For more information, including show notes, head to our website, csnlg.com/listen. And if you like what you hear, please consider giving us a review on iTunes. Those reviews bring us lots of happiness. I’m your host, Michael Boll, and we will talk again soon!
This is part of our complete Beginner’s Guide to the Special Education Legal Process.