Our lay advocacy services have been a significant part of our work since we first opened our doors in 2003. However, changes since then in public policy, law, and public education agency practices have caused us to change how we advocate for students with special needs.
Our advocacy efforts are based on our experiences as lay advocates as well as the input and oversight of our CEO, who has worked as a lay advocate since 1991, a paralegal since 2005, and an educational psychologist since 2013. Our combination of skills and experiences in best practices in educational program design and evaluation as well as the legal requirements of special education and related civil rights law gives us a unique perspective on how to address the extremely wide variety of challenges that are faced by students with special needs and their families.
Our typical process for lay advocacy casework is to begin with a review of student records to determine the story told by the record. We request records on behalf of each family that hires us from the student’s local education agency (LEA) when we give notice of lay advocacy representation. Once the records have been reviewed, we provide a written report to the family regarding our findings, then confer with the family to reconcile the story as told by the record against their actual reported experiences.
From there, we compose written correspondence articulating specific requests, which can include revisions to individualized education program (IEP) documents, new assessments, and scheduling new IEP meetings. Our goal is always to arrive at an IEP document that is both procedurally and substantively appropriate to the needs of each student – a document worth enforcing. An IEP is a legally binding and enforceable document that obligates a student’s LEA to whatever it describes, so its contents are critically important to student success. The whole point of an IEP is to describe how a special education student’s educational experiences will be tailored to his/her unique learning needs.
We assist families in enforcing IEP documents in addition to negotiating their contents. If disagreements between families and their LEAs cannot be resolved through the IEP process, we assist families in finding qualified, responsible legal representation. The law is written in such a way that the only method of dispute resolution available to families when matters cannot be resolved through the IEP process is litigation, which is unfortunate but the reality of special education law. To the extent that litigation can be avoided, we seek to do so as amicably as possible. However, we have to keep the processes and procedures in mind, so as we work to avoid litigation, we also make the record in as constructive a manner as possible should it become unavoidable.
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