A lot of my potential clients really don't need a special education attorney and I'm not reluctant to tell them. Does that make me a bad business person? I don't think so. Clients who aren't ready for legal representation are more likely to be unhappy with the experience.
So what are indicators you aren't
ready to hire an education attorney? (1) You've haven't considered working with an advocate.
If you need help navigating the special education process, you should first consider hiring an educational advocate
. Not only are advocates usually less expensive than attorneys, working with an advocate can provide you with the support you need while maintaining a more collaborative approach with the school district. Advocates spend more time at IEP meetings and with school officials than attorneys, and often have a better sense of the underlying institutional dynamics within your district. Some advocates specialize in particular types of disabilities. If you've tried working with an advocate before and you weren't happy with the quality of representation, consider working with a more effective and experienced advocate instead of immediately thinking you need an attorney. (2) You want to scare the school :
If your reason for hiring an attorney is simply to scare the school district, you will probably be disappointed. Special education law is about advocating for your child's needs. If you and the school district disagree about your child's needs, there are mechanisms in place (settlement, mediation, due process hearings) for dispute resolution
. A special education attorney can help you with this. If you don't have a dispute about your child's needs or don't want a resolution, you should not hire a special education attorney. (3) You don't know what your child needs.
You shouldn't hire an attorney to assess your child's needs. Most attorneys are not educators or learning specialists. They cannot evaluate your child nor can they recommend educational supports, services, or placement. Even if they could, no hearing officer and judge would give the attorney's educational recommendations any weight because attorneys are considered inherently biased. A qualified special education attorney can refer you to professionals who can help assess your child's learning profile and help you understand, from a legal perspective, how to find credible, effective experts. An attorney can also help you request additional testing from the school district. But here's the truth - a good educational advocate can often help you navigate the assessment process, and can do so at a fraction of the cost. (4) You're the only one who knows what your child needs:
Remember how your attorney is considered inherently biased and therefore can't make educational recommendations? As the parent you're considered even more biased than the attorney! If you believe your child needs a specific support, program or service, you need to prove why with expert advice and/or peer reviewed research. (5) You don't know what you want.
Maybe the school district has proposed an in-district program and the independent evaluator has recommended an out-of-district placement. You are unsure which placement is appropriate so you contact an attorney. This is an important decision, but not one an attorney should make for you. Remember, your attorney is not an expert in determining your child's needs. That said, an attorney can be extremely helpful in explaining the legal implications of each option, which will help you make an informed decision.
Once you are ready to hire a special education attorney, it's important to choose the right one. Find my advice on that process here
Still not sure what to do? Feel free to contact
The Law Office of Lillian E. Wong for initial consultation.
Today we celebrate the value, acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome. I am privileged to know and be inspired by so many amazing individuals with Down syndrome and their families.
I don't usually post family photos here, but I thought today I would make an exception and post one of me with my cousin Peter.
Attorney Lillian Wong represents students with a wide range of abilities and challenges throughout Massachusetts. Her Boston area law office is dedicated to defending the civil rights of students with IEPs and 504s in the public school system.
Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts (AFAM) and Autism Speaks have partnered to promote an Autism Awareness Specialty License Plate in Massachusetts! A portion of the proceeds from each plate sold will benefit Autism Speaks and AFAM.
“The success of this joint license plate venture between AFAM and Autism Speaks will ensure advocacy at the Massachusetts State House for all individuals and families impacted by an autism spectrum disorder,” said Michael Borr, Chairman of AFAM’s Executive Committee. “The proceeds of the Autism Awareness License Plate will allow AFAM to continue to serve as the primary advocacy vehicle protecting the rights and needs of families throughout the state.”If you are interested in getting a plate, simply fill out the form here.
Production of the plates will begin when 1,500 orders are received. The Law Office of Lillian E. Wong in no way benefits from the proceeds of these license plates, however, the firm has represented many families throughout Massachusetts who have children on the autism spectrum and Attorney Wong understands the the unique challenges of advocating for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). If you have a child with Asperger's, Autism, or PDD-NOS and are concerned that the child's IEP is not meeting your child's need, feel free to contact Boston area attorney Lillian Wong for an initial consultation.
First, what is a unilateral placement? It is a self-help mechanism that parents utilize when the school district (the "District") is not providing their child a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and the parents believe that a private placement would provide the child FAPE. Instead of waiting for the District to agree to fund the placement, Parents pay out-of-pocket for the placement and try to seek reimbursement from the District.Whether or not the Parents are entitled to reimbursement is a complicated legal question. The notice to the District must meet certain procedural requirements. I would NEVER recommend a unilateral placement without working with a special education attorney or a seasoned special education advocate. If Parents' notice is not sufficient, they are not entitled to reimbursement. Even if the request if procedurally valid,
a unilateral placement is financial risky. Reimbursement is only warranted if the IEP at the time of the unilateral placement does not provide FAPE and the out-of-district placement does. Reimbursement might also be confined if the District later offers an IEP that does provide FAPE. BEFORE a parents decides to unilaterally place their child, it is very important to a comprehensive case analysis by an experienced special education attorney. This is best way for you to optimize your chances of recouping your expenses.If you are considering a unilateral placement, contact the North Shore Massachusetts Law Firm of Lillian E. Wong.
A recent story from Portland, Oregon caught my eye. An occupational therapist is suing her former school district, claiming she was fired for reporting violations of special education law. The occupational therapist claims that her schedule did not permit her to service all children who needed it, as required by law. Instead, the school district allegedly told her to only service the students whose "parents are litigious." You can read the entire article here
I hear a lot of similar stories from special educators here in Massachusetts, although many of those individuals are reluctant to speak up because they fear they would end up, like this Oregon woman, without a job.
It is disheartening to think that only children with litigious parents are receiving the special education services they need, especially since being a "litigious parent" usually requires a fair amount of money. This paradigm often leaves poor children with disabilities further disadvantaged and underscores the importance of pro bono representation. This story also highlights a reality many parents suspect but find difficult to confirm - that the school more likely to give your child the supports and services he or she needs if you, as the parent, understand and are ready to enforce the law.
If you are a parent of a child on an IEP in Massachusetts with additional questions about special education law enforcement, please do not hesitate to contact
the North Shore Law Office of Lillian E. Wong.
In June 2010, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report that found that students with disabilities were not being afforded an equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular athletics in public elementary and secondary schools. The GAO emphasized that participation in extracurricular athletics provides important health and social benefits to all student, particularly those with disabilities.
You can read the entire report here
On January 25, 2013 the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued guidance on how schools can ensure that students with disabilities are provided equal access to extracurricular sports (club, intramural, interscholastic). You can read the entire document here.
There are three main points in to this January 25, 2013 document. Each section provides interesting example cases and analysis, but here is a summary:
First, OCR warns against general rules and stereotypes that bar students with disabilities from participating in sports and reminds schools to use an individualized inquiry.
Second, OCR explains that the governing law, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), requires schools to affords qualified students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate and defines equal opportunity as making reasonable modifications and providing those aids and services that are necessary to ensure an equal opportunity to participate, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the activity.
Finally, OCR instructs that even students with disabilities who cannot participate in the school district's existing extracurricular program
(even with reasonable modifications or aids or services) must still have an equal opportunity to receive the benefits of extracurricular athletics
and suggests multiple ways to provide this opportunity such as creating district-wide or regional teams, mixing male and female students together, or offering "allied" or "unified" teams where students with disabilities participate with students without disabilities.
If you have questions about disability-based discrimination and equal access to education, including
extracurricular activities, contact
the Boston area law office of Lillian E. Wong today.
I often receive calls from parents who believe their child's educational rights are being violated because the child is making very limited or no progress at school.
These stories are heartbreaking, but lack of progress alone does not establish that the school failed to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Instead, to prove that the school is not meeting your child's needs you must show that your child is not making progress commensurate with his or her potential.
How do you do this? In three steps. (1) Assess Potential (2) Measure Progress (2) Compare Potential to Progress.
Assessing potential is difficult because in a way you are trying to predict the future. One of best ways to assess potential is the seek the advice of an expert. This experts needs to have experience with children whose profiles are similar to your child. This experience with your child's disability, combined with the administration of standardized testing, review of educational records, and consideration of peer-reviewed research, will provide the expert with a reliable estimate of your child's potential.
Another indicator of your child's potential is in your child's IEP. When the school proposes IEP goals they are asserting that your child has the potential to meet these goals within a year. If IEP Goals are
repeated year after year, there is a strong possibility that your child is not making progress commensurate to his or herpotential.Measure Progress
Educational Progress is measured in many ways - report cards, progress reports, standardized tests, and observations. It is also important to consider whether your child has failed to make any progress (stagnation) or lost skills he or she once had (regression). Compare to Potential to Progress
Only after you have assessed potential and measured progress can you gauge whether your child's progress is commensurate with their potential. Always keep in mind the ultimate purpose of special educational law - to prepare students for further education, employment and indepedent living. Consider your child's current trajectory of progress. If your child will not reach his or her
potential post-secondary goals on this trajectory it may be time for you to request an IEP meeting and
advocate for a different approach.
If you are concerned that your child is not make effective progress, please contac
t the Boston area law office of Massachusetts special education attorney Lillian E. Wong.
What is one of the biggest mistakes parents make
in the IEP process? Surprisingly, asking the school to provide "the best" for their child.
Yes, all parents want the best for their child, and the
other parts of the law consider "the best interest of the child," but when it comes to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) the school is only required
to provide the special education supports and services that your child needs
in order to make effective progress
Courts try to explain this distinction with the Cadillac vs. Chevrolet analogy. The law requires that each child receive an education comparable to a "serviceable" Chevrolet, not a luxurious Cadillac. As the U.S. Supreme Court explained in Rowley
, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires a "basic floor of opportunity," not the best possible education.
The takeaway: don't ask the school to provide what's best for your child (the Cadillac), but frame all special education requests in terms of your child's needs (the Chevrolet).
If you have questions about special education law, contact
the Boston area law office of Lillian Wong today.
Parents and educational advocates often ask me what to do when a teacher is "bullying" a student. Massachusetts' Bullying Law
Many people are surprised to learn that the Massachusetts Anti-Bullying law
does not apply when teachers are "bullying" students. The Massachusetts Anti-Bullying law defines a "bully" as a "student," making it legally impossible for the teacher to be labeled a bully under this statute. Reframing the Question
Just because the anti-bullying law does not apply to teacher/student interactions, doesn't mean the teacher is acting appropriately. When I'm told a teacher is bullying as student I always ask for a more detailed description about the teacher's actions.
Is the teacher refusing to implement the student's IEP or 504 accommodations? Then the teacher is denying the child a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Is the teacher continually making fun of the child's known or perceived disability? Then the teacher has committed disability-based harassment and discrimination. Is the teacher impermissibly sharing confidential information about the student? Then the teacher is violating the child's privacy rights under FERPA
. Getting Help
Before any parent makes allegations against a teacher, it's important to have a clear understanding of what events took place and what laws are implicated. It's also useful to corroborate reports of teacher "bullying" and provide supporting documentation
to the school. If you have questions about the laws governing teacher/student interactions, contact
the Boston area law office of Lillian E. Wong today.