Attorney vs. Advocate
When do you need a special education attorney versus a parent advocate?
Federal and state laws require school districts to find and identify children with disabilities. Parents can request that their child be evaluated, and schools must respond appropriately. Once children have been identified, the schools are required to determine if they are eligible for special education services, and if they are, to provide those services in an appropriate manner.
In many cases, and with the right information, parents can advocate effectively for their child in the special education setting. The special education process was set up to be relatively non-adversarial and to allow parents to be members of the IEP team and collaborate with schools. However, some school districts push back when parents question their decisions, fail to truly inform parents of their rights under IDEA and Section 504, and fail to identify, evaluate or provide appropriate services to children with disabilities. If you are experiencing push back, you suspect something is wrong but cannot get your school to listen, or you believe your child is not getting services that allow him or her to progress appropriately, it may be time to call for help.
Your next decision is whether to call a special education attorney or parent advocate.
Albeit Weiker, LLP has both advocates and special education attorneys to handle cases. Our advocates are many times more financially affordable to families, typically billing at 50% of the attorney hourly rate. Another benefit to hiring Albeit Weiker, LLP is that you can start with an advocate but if the situation ever progresses to needing an attorney, our attorneys are already up to speed and familiar with your case. That means less time transitioning from an advocate to an attorney, and less money spent by the family.
Both advocates and attorneys should have a solid understanding of the IDEA and 504 frameworks at the state level, disabilities, educational theories and practices, and school environments. They should be aware of appropriate interventions for children with disabilities, be able to connect you with resources and services outside the school, and be adept at effectively communicating with school districts.
Here are some tasks that BOTH special education attorneys and advocates should be able to do well:
- Evaluate initial and triennial Evaluation Team Reports
- Advocate for and help draft appropriate and effective IEPs
- Advocate for Section 504 eligibility and help draft appropriate and effective 504 plans
- Advocate for Independent Educational Evaluations
- Evaluate and advocate for Functional Behavior Assessments & Behavior Intervention Plans
- Advocate for students with behavioral disabilities and protect those students when schools want to discipline them
- Understand and advocate for effective progress monitoring
So, when should you consider a special education attorney?
Advocates and attorneys should be able to evaluate your case to determine if you need legal or advocate assistance. However, the following may be red flags to alert you that an attorney may be needed:
- Your child’s needs concern specific areas of law such as placement outside of the school, your legal rights of confidentiality, etc.;
- Your child faces expulsion and/or criminal charges for conduct within the school;
- The school has brought in an attorney to help them, or you need to answer a letter written by an attorney; or
- You need to move beyond advocacy to file a formal complaint or due process with the Ohio Department of Education, or a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights.
The best way to determine if you need an advocate or attorney is to call one and ask. A responsible advocate will tell you when you need an attorney, just as a responsible attorney will tell you when you can use an advocate. Make sure they listen more than they talk – the hallmark of effective advocacy is in their listening skills!