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Advocate to Help Your Child at School

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Special Education Advocate to Help Your Child at School

What is the difference in cost between an advocate and an attorney ?   Why would you need an advocate?  Is your child having problems learning at school?  Is your child at grade level?  What are your rights?  Did you know that an IEP team meeting is required for your child?

Most special needs parents are told “no” when parents ask for educational resources for their children at IEP team meetings. One parent out of 200 parents gets an attorney or advocate and enforces their child’s rights.

There are no monetary damages available to parents when the school district breaks the rules.  Instead, the school district only has to give the assertive parent what the parent’s child was entitled to receive in the first place.  Accordingly, school districts have little downside risk of saying “no” to parents.

Advocates and attorneys (lawyers) are generally quite expensive.  There are four ways to hire advocates and attorneys.

  1. By The Hour: Paying attorneys and lawyers by the hour is the most common way of hiring attorneys and advocates.
  2. Lawyers usually charge between $200 and $400 per hour.
  3. Non-lawyer advocates usually charge $75 to $150 per hour.
  4. Lawyers and advocates charge for transportation time, telephone calls, research, letter writing, and attending meetings at the going hourly rate.
  5. Lawyers often charge a retainer of $3,000 to $5,000 to start, $25,000 to go to due process, and $100,000 to $200,000 to appeal to a federal District Court.  School districts count on parents going broke before the parents can win a significant victory.
  6. By the hour lawyers usually serve the upper-middle-class parents and children.
  7. Free Lawyers: Not-for-profit agencies such as Disability Rights provide free consultations and advice to parents. Occasionally, they even provide legal assistance with letter writing and due process actions. The resources of these not-for-profit agencies are very limited and generally difficult to obtain for middle-class families with parents who have jobs. Free lawyers generally serve the very poor parents and children.
  8. Free Advisers: Not-for-profit agencies, such as Team Advocates for Special Kids (TASK), provide free instruction as to parents’ rights, students’ rights, and procedural safeguards.  Generally, these free advisers are not allowed to teach parents how to initiate Requests for Due Process Hearings (i.e., lawsuits against the school districts) and how to litigate because these organizations receive their funding, in whole or in part, from state agencies.  These groups are very good for explaining and helping parents understand their rights with regard to special needs children.  Free advisers generally serve all socio-economic groups.
  9. Flat Fee: Some advocates and law firms charge an annual flat fee to represent parents with children who have special needs. These advocates and lawyers typically charge parents between $1,800 and $3,800 per year and the law firms receive additional monies from the school district if the parents win at a Due Process hearing.

Flat fee arrangements include everything in the annual fee, such as attending multiple IEP team meetings with parents, handling IEP paperwork and letter writing, transportation costs, incidental filing fees, filing for and attending Due Process Request hearings, and appeals to federal courts.

Flat fee groups serve middle-class working parents and their children.  This fee arrangement is sometimes known as “low bono” (low-cost) instead of “pro bono” (free).

Danielle Alvarado is a special needs consultant (a Non-attorney Advocate) who, for a flat rate of approximately $600, will provide three months of special education school advocacy on behalf of a child who has special needs (click here to review).

The Special Education Law Firm (attorney Jennifer Guze Campbell) provides parents with incomes under $80,000 per year a full year of complete special education legal support for a flat rate of approximately $2,400 (click here to review).

Parents often make cost-benefit analyses of how much to spend for special education representation.  If a parent can spend $2,500 per year for representation so that their child who has special needs can receive $30,000 to $40,000 per year in educational services from the public school system, then many parents decide that it may be worthwhile to obtain representation.

The alternative for caring parents is to put their children in private schools and pay $20,000 to $40,000 a year for their child’s necessary services, or to pay $8,000 to $15,000 for private services such as tutors, reading programs, ABA therapists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, etc.  These alternatives often create a resource drain that is detrimental to the family.

When a child only requires a little more therapy, such as speech therapy, it may be wiser to pay for private speech therapy or to use personal insurance to obtain the serivce.

Did you know that there is a civil rights law that protects your child and requires school districts to provide whatever your child needs to receive meaningful educational benefit from your child’s schooling?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) is a civil rights and education law for children with learning disabilities.  It was written to protect children from school districts.

Most school districts do not want to provide the resources that the school districts are mandated to provide by the federal and state governments .

If your child has any problem that keeps your child from learning in your school, then your child should be classified as “special education-eligible” and receive the following:

Your school district, at no cost to you, must fully assess your child in all areas of suspected learning disability.  Some of these areas are:

1. Academic Achievement (grade level success)

2. Learning Potential (living up to potential)

3. Auditory Skills

4. Attention Deficit Issues

5. Auditory Processing Issues (the ability to process words appropriately)

6. Visual Skills (the ability to track when reading and to identify things)

7.  Fine Motor Skills (writing and drawing skills)

8. Gross Motor Skills (not clumsy or unsafe)

9. Social/Emotional Behaviors (understands, is friendly and gets along)

10.  Audiology (can hear all frequencies)

11.  Vision

12. Health

13. Mental Health issues (is psychiatric counseling required?)

Your school District must hold an individualized education program (IEP) eligibility meeting and determine if your child is “special education-eligible.”  If your child is “special education-eligible,” then both state and federal law protect your child.  The District does not have to do anything for children who are not “special education-eligible.”

Many school districts consciously prevent children from being identified as “special education-eligible” to keep those children from being entitled to resources and the protection of the IDEA.

If your child is special education-eligible, then your school district must create a plan that lays out all the goals, services, and other resources that your child requires.  An appropriate plan often means keeping your child in a general education class and providing your child with push-in or pull-out services to ensure that your child catches up and receives educational benefit.

Your school district must then implement the IEP plan for your child.

School districts do not like to spend extra money on children who have problems learning. School districts like to put special education children in low level classes and babysit them instead of teach them.  It is less expensive to do so.

Politicians run school districts.  Special education students’ families do not belong to the special interest groups that elect school board members. School boards intentionally give limited budgets for special education to the school administrators.

School administrators for special education get to keep their jobs, pay their mortgages and feed their families if they say “no” to parents at IEP team meetings.  There is a person with budget responsibility at every IEP team meeting.  The school administrators will retaliate against teachers and therapists if the teachers and therapists speak up at IEP team meetings on behalf of children who have special needs.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) is a civil rights and education law for children with learning disabilities.  It was written to protect children from school districts.

Children with learning disabilities must be treated equally and receive benefit from their education.  This right includes receiving significant additional resources so that they can learn as much as other children.

Unlike other civil rights laws, the IDEA requires that parents enforce their children’s rights.  No government agency is going to come and help parents and children who have special needs get necessary resources for learning from the school district.

The IDEA requires that school districts spend whatever is necessary to provide appropriate resources for children who have special needs; the school districts cannot hide behind the excuse of a limited budget.  This is a case where local school board politics often override both the United States Congress and the California State Legislature.

The next time you are at an IEP team meeting, make sure you can identify who in the room is the school district’s budget person.  the budget person’s  nod or headshake will determine whether your child’s IEP team OKs what your child needs to receive meaningful educational benefit or whether your child is denied necessary educational services.

Know your rights by educating yourself at organizations like Team Advocates for Special Kids.

If your school district refuses to provide the resources that your child who has special needs requires, then consider that you and your child may need representation by an advocate or an attorney at the next IEP team meeting.


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