On average, seven million American public school students receive special education services annually. This includes students with health conditions, specific learning disabilities, and global developmental delays.
With this number continuing to rise, many schools are struggling to keep up with the increased demands on their limited resources. A special education advocate can help prevent your child from falling through the cracks. Keep reading to find out how.
Special Education Trends
The demand for special education services in America’s public schools is higher than it has ever been. According to the CDC:
- One of every 54 children has autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- 17 percent of children have a developmental disability
- 9.4 percent of children have ADHD
These statistics only scratch the surface of the physical, mental, and emotional health conditions that can make school challenging for students. In this environment, there is more call for legally-required accommodations and modifications than schools have experienced in the past.
Unfortunately, resources and training often do not keep pace with demand. Faced with limited resources, schools may:
- Fail to accurately recognize and respond to student needs
- Be slow or completely fail to provide needed accommodations
- Implement accommodations inconsistently or poorly
- Fail to respect student and family rights
- Provide inaccurate or misleading assessments or explanations of students’ rights and available options
All of these things can result in children not getting the supports that they need. Without the right supports, children struggle, fall behind, and become alienated from school and their peers. In worst-case scenarios, this struggle leads into a downward spiral known as the “school to prison pipeline.”
Where Special Education Advocates Come In
Enter special education advocates. Special education advocates are professionals who can support you and your child in asserting your rights over their education. Advocates can help you in concrete ways.
Advocates can help you understand the complexities of the special education system. They can explain the processes, rules, and options in a clear, unbiased way. This can help you fully understand what is available to you and how to take advantage of it.
Many advocates are trained educators with a good understanding of educational modalities and best practices. They can help you choose the best accommodation and modification methods for your child’s specific needs.
Advocates can attend meetings with you. They can help you negotiate with the school for the right resources, and can review proposed IEP and 504 plans to make sure they fit the letter of the law and meet your child’s needs.
Advocates have experience in the strategies that schools use and can help you work with or counter them as necessary. Advocates can also assist you in identifying, finding, and accessing third-party help such as evaluators and service providers where needed.
Special Education Advocacy Limits
State and federal laws place firm limits on what advocates can and cannot do. Legally, advocates can:
- Mediate between you and the school district, with your permission
- Provide you with information, resources, and advice
- Assist you in negotiating with the school, including sending letters and emails on your behalf
Advocates cannot, however, do anything that constitutes practicing law. This means that they cannot:
- Offer legal advice
- Represent you in any formal legal hearings or court cases
- Create or submit legal complaints, protests, or documents
Essentially, they can help you identify what your child needs and argue for it. But if the school fails to respond and you are forced to go to court, you will need to replace your advocate with an attorney.
Special Education Lawyers
Special education lawyers are legal professionals authorized to practice law in your state. They can represent you in court, and prepare and serve legal notices and documents to your school district, if necessary. They can assist you in filing formal claims and complaints.
Experienced special education lawyers can perform many of the same services as an advocate. For example, they can:
- Review IEP and 504 plans
- Attend meetings with you
- Educate you on your rights
- Help you find other support resources
If you have had persistent problems with your school district, you may decide to work with a lawyer from the start. If you expect a more cooperative relationship with the school, you may prefer just an advocate.
The Benefits of an Advocate
There are benefits to selecting a special education advocate over an attorney.
First, many advocates trained and worked as educators. They have a deep, first-hand understanding of both educational methodologies and the public education system. This can offer them insights that many attornies would not have.
Second, advocates are often viewed as “soft” assistance by school districts. They are not typically considered a threat, and school officials may respond well to them and their efforts. This is particularly true in situations where the advocates already have strong working relationships with the school district.
Lawyers, by contrast, are always viewed by school districts as parents “playing hardball.” When parents bring lawyers, schools do, too. That can make for unpleasant and challenging negotiations.
Special Education Advocate Fees
How much do special education advocates charge? There is no single answer, of course. Advocate fees can vary depending on:
- Their training and experience levels
- What services you need from them
- Whether or not they operate on a sliding fee scale
Generally, advocates charge less than lawyers. If you need an advocate but struggle to pay for one, you may be able to find financial assistance from local education and child welfare support groups.
Choosing an attorney who specializes in special education to serve as an advocate can provide you with the best of both worlds. These professionals have the knowledge and experience you need at the negotiating table and the ability to carry your case forward into the courts if it comes to that.
We Can Help
Tsadik Law is wholly focused on providing special education assistance to families. We offer both special education advocate and legal services for comprehensive support.
Contact us today for more information on how we can help you and your child thrive.