Do you need a special education attorney?
Hiring an attorney can ensure that your child’s rights are respected.
You know when your child with special needs is not getting the right education for him. Maybe he’s struggling in a class that doesn’t fit in well. You may not be receiving the supports and services to which you are entitled outside of class. He could even be in the wrong school entirely. But going up against a school district and the New York State Department of Education fighting for your child can be a daunting task for any parent. That’s where special education attorneys come in. They can help you understand your child’s rights, fight for his free and appropriate education, come to terms with his school or take him to a new one. In fact, a special education attorney can make a difference.
The special education system in New York is complex. Some attorneys claim that school districts do not know what services are required for students with special needs, while others say that schools deliberately do not provide the services these children deserve. Laura Adler-Greene, an associate attorney at the Garden City Law Offices of Andrew Cohen , says she believes district leaders know the law. If they don’t, they have law firms to inform them.
On the other hand, many parents get stuck on the difference between a proper education and the best education their children can receive, says Gerald Raymond, managing partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC in Syracuse. district, they might come into a planning meeting for your child’s services with a completely different idea of what the school representatives are willing to offer. In that case, the conflict arises not because the school authorities do not know what to provide, but because the parents have a different idea.
How a lawyer can help your child
An attorney is often necessary for your school district to do what it should, says Bernard A. Krooks, founding partner of Littman Krooks LLP and head of its special needs department. An attorney can help you move your child to a different type of class, receive the correct services as dictated by his Individualized Education Program, or transfer him to a different type of school. An attorney can also help you when your student has behavior problems and help you avoid pipeline from school to prison.—A trend in which students with special needs are funneled out of public schools and into the criminal justice system. The American Civil Liberties Union reports that students with disabilities are disproportionately represented in the pipeline due to inadequate special education resources from schools and reliance on zero tolerance policies.
Once you’ve hired an attorney, she can be as involved in your family’s progress as she wants. Your attorney may attend the IEP, Special Education Committee, or annual review meetings with you or request an impartial hearing or mediation. In some cases, an attorney will take a family’s case to federal court.
Raymond says that having an attorney can make a big difference in your child’s well-being. In one case, after a student fell behind in school when his individual aide was brought in by the district, Raymond’s firm provided the CSE with documentation as to why the boy needed an aide and returned the aide to him. Having an assistant can significantly increase a child’s well-being, school performance, and safety.
Laura Davis, directora de la Unidad de educación especial at New York Legal Assistance Group, says that sometimes the impact of an attorney may not seem like much to the untrained eye, but it can mean everything to parents.
“I’m working with a family whose son spent four years in an inappropriate class of six-one-one [six students, a teacher and a helper] in a public school, and now he’s at Gersh [Academy],” Davis says. “[The mother says] that her son can now look at her, sit in a chair for a couple of minutes at a time, wave goodbye. All of this is very meaningful to parents. To someone else it may seem like nothing, but to her, her eight-year-old son is now, for the first time, making progress. ”
Find a lawyer
In her experience, the special needs community is united and supportive, says Krooks. Information, such as lawyers’ recommendations, tends to flow quickly. “You can also use Facebook, discussion and support groups, or just search online,” he adds. But at the end of the day, Krooks says, it’s not necessarily that hard to find someone with the necessary skills, although it can be challenging to find a good match.
Affordable Lawyer Services
It may take an attorney to go against your child’s school, especially in wealthier districts where schools often have large law firms on hold. But hiring an attorney can be complicated, no matter where you live, and unfortunately, petitioners in education law cases don’t get court-appointed attorneys the way petitioners do in family law cases.
As Davis explains, it is especially important that families with lower incomes and families whose first language is not English understand their parental rights. However, many of these families do not have the means to pay withholdings and fees, according to Ashley Grant, supervising attorney at Defensores de los niños in New York. But these fees, he says, shouldn’t stop parents from seeking help.
For example, families can contact Advocates for Children, which is just one of several organizations in the city that connects lower-income families with legal resources. Some law firms will handle cases regardless of family income. As Krooks points out, “We will take cases like this because we went to law school to help people.” When an attorney helps a family win a case in New York, the firm can reimburse its attorneys’ fees by the Department of Education, at no cost to the family.