PARENTS NEED SPECIAL EDUCATION ADVOCATES
PARENTS NEED SPECIAL EDUCATION ADVOCATES NOW
MJ Gore, Roy Lewis, Marie Lewis
Some people say the special education system is broken. It may not be broken as much as dysfunctional, ignored and not complied with. 14% of all children are in special education and 90% of them do NOT have severe disabilities.
- “A significant lack of school accountability, poor enforcement of existing federal laws, and systemic barriers have denied students their educational rights and opportunities” Achieving Independence: The Challenge for the 21st Century, NCD
- “In the past 25 years, States have not met their general supervisory obligations to ensure compliance with the civil rights requirements of IDEA at the local level… The Federal Government has frequently failed to take effective action to enforce the civil rights protections of IDEA when federal officials determine that states have failed to ensure compliance with the law.” National Council On Disability (NCD)
- Children with learning disabilities are often segregated unnecessarily from non-disabled peers and thus denied the opportunity to develop necessary social skills. Segregated classes are often not as academically rigorous and lack many resources found in general education classes.
- Non-disabled peers are denied the opportunity to learn about and from disabled peers, perpetuating stereotypes of the disabled.
- Graduation rates for students with disabilities is at a very low 68%
- Working-age adults with learning disabilities are employed 46% of the time vs. 71% for those without learning disabilities.
- Despite intelligence levels adequate to go to college, students with unidentified or not properly assessed learning disabilities do not receive services, are pushed through, drop out of school, and have lower-paying unskilled jobs.
- Unaddressed learning disabilities lead to behavioral problems that mask the initial disability.
- Children with unaddressed learning disabilities often self-medicate with alcohol and drugs..
- High School dropouts are 8 times more likely to go to prison.
- 50% of students with learning disabilities are suspended or expelled from school each year
- 60% of those recovering from addictions have some form of a learning disability
- Often IEPs are written to be legally sufficient but do not educate the students in their areas of educational need and do not result in the academic and functional outcomes necessary for the student to succeed.
Only 14% of the population has learning disabilities yet,
50-78% of juveniles incarcerated have learning disabilities.
PARENTS NEED TRAINING AND SUPPORT
Parents are at a disadvantage because legislative mandates insist that parents participate as active equal members of the IEP team and in the IEP process, despite their lack of experience or training. The process of identification of educational needs, both functionally and academically, and the creation of individual education plans (IEPs) is a complex process.
Parents who advocate for their child or those who become Special Education Advocates come from many backgrounds. To be a special education advocate takes specific interdisciplinary cross-training outside of what current licensed special education teachers, related service professionals, and special education lawyers receive. Currently, there are no minimum education requirements or licensure to become a special education advocate, meaning anyone can call themselves a special education advocate.
Advocates have a huge variation in education, experience, and competency.
Many advocates try to educate themselves, some very successfully, but most lack a sufficient scope of information to be a competent special education advocate. Special education advocates must deal with a highly complex interdisciplinary approach (not just a medical, educational, or legal approach).
SPECIAL EDUCATION IS A COMPLEX PROCESS
Special Education presents an intricate maze to navigate. It includes:
- Federal and state education regulations
- Education, civil rights and disability-related procedural safeguards and regulations
- Research-based educational interventions and best practices in general and special education
- Interpreting a multitude of clinical diagnoses, as well as, educational, related service and psychological evaluations and translating them into educational needs to be addressed.
- Eligibility determinations,
- Research-based educational interventions and best practices for Related Service Providers including developmental, corrective, and supportive services required, to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education. These include but are not limited to:
- Transportation services
- Speech-language pathology services
- Audiology services
- Interpreting services - ASL and other languages
- Psychological services
- Physical therapy services
- Occupational therapy services
- Recreation services
- Therapeutic recreation services
- Early identification and assessment of disabilities services
- Counseling services
- Rehabilitation counseling services
- Orientation and mobility services
- Behavioral analysis and treatment services
- Medical diagnostic or evaluation services
- School health services
- School nurse services
- Social work services
- Parent counseling and training.
This system, unfortunately, is not standardized, nor are best practices implemented consistently across the country. There is usually no consistency even from one school district to another within the same state! Thus advocates cannot know just what is going on in just their local community - they routinely need to know what the standards are across the state and country.
Special education advocates have come to realize that many school districts have the expertise to assist children with disabilities to access their education, but the left-hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Advocates are confronted all the time with school district responses like,"We don't do that here." Coordination and communication with the special education director and the IEP team is essential.
WELL TRAINED SPECIAL EDUCATION ADVOCATES
ARE PROBLEM SOLVERS AND IMPROVE OUTCOMES
Clients and schools need to know that Special Education Advocates are very similar to trained health care patient advocates, who have been valued and used at hospitals for decades. Nurses and Doctors often depend on patient advocates to assist them. Both special education advocates and patient advocates are non-licensed professionals with similar roles. They both objectively assist clients in understanding and making sense of their needs, improve outcomes, and access appropriate and timely services by:
- Educating clients and staff on
- How to solve problems in a timely manner
- Client and staff rights and safeguards
- System and regulatory information
- Required procedures
- Assisting in communicating needs and agendas
- Taking complaints
- Identifying patterns of behavior within a system for regulatory changes
- Assisting in filing state and federal regulatory complaints
- Guiding a client through a complex interdisciplinary system
- Helping clients communicate with their service providers so that both parties get the information they need to make accurate and timely decisions, with a focus on better outcomes
- Connecting with alternative providers and specialists for alternative opinions and independent evaluations
- Asking questions or voicing client concerns to service providers
- Compiling or updating client records and information
- Assisting clients in following instructions
- Arranging meetings and agendas
- Facilitating investigation of research-based interventions
- Informing clients of best practices within each discipline
- Facilitating research on placement options
- Assisting with filing paperwork, documentation or writing letters
- Asking follow-up and the next step questions
- Teaching clients to advocate for themselves and to not be afraid to give their concerns a voice.
LAWYERS HAVE SPECIFIC ROLES
Lawyers have specific roles.
- Explain your rights and give you a legal opinion
- Negotiate a Settlement Agreement
- Where you have to give up your rights and your child's rights.
- Agreeing to and presuming that the current interventions or placements are appropriate - without data.
- Demand Compensatory Time for missed services
- This is what we call in advocacy - too little too late.
- Represent you in a due process case.
- Lawyers have promoted a system that is focused on legal procedures rather than educational outcomes.
- 70% of all special education due process cases represented by special education lawyers and 95% of cases where parents represent themselves are decided in favor of the school district.
- 56% of ALL adjudicated hearings are in only 2 states (NY & NJ).
You have to know what you want before you walk into the lawyer's office. With this changing industry, Lawyers are now aware that most cases need to be referred back to the IEP team with well-trained education advocates attending, to assist in the IEP development process, including:
- Educational need identification
- both functionally and academically
- across multiple environments
- Use of a multidisciplinary system research-based educational interventions
- Appropriate progress monitoring of actual deficit areas
- Functional outcome goal development
- Compliance monitoring with fidelity checks
We do not expect a malpractice lawyer to make medical recommendations, so why would we expect a Special Education lawyer to make educational recommendations?
To become an education advocate one can find many programs. It is important that one looks at the curriculum, cross-training, and how extensively the actual IEP development process is taught vs the conflict resolution process is taught. Most programs take a legalistic approach. Doctors and nurses learn best practices within their trade before they learn malpractice.
The most extensive and comprehensive program available today is:
NSEAI - National Special Education Advocacy Institute,
A Professional Association for Special Education Advocates
Offering a Board Certification in Special Education Advocacy.
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Manuals, Resources, and Ebooks previously offered are only available under private page membership now.
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becoming a Board Certified Education Advocate - BCEA
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
MJ Gore, MEd, BCEA
MJ is the co-director and on the faculty of the National Special Education Advocacy Institute's Board Certified Education Advocate program. She has been a special education teacher in middle school and a school counselor. She resides in Pottstown, PA. She received her BS in Natural Sciences and her M.Ed. in counselor education at the University of Pittsburg. In 1973-1974 she facilitated the development of the first learning disability program in the greater Pittsburgh area in preparation for the Education for All Handicapped Children Act 1974, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This opened public schools to millions of children with disabilities and laid the foundation of the country’s commitment to ensuring that children with disabilities have opportunities to be educated, develop their talents, share their gifts, and contribute to their communities.
Roy Lewis, FAAR
Roy is an architect, has won multiple national and international architectural design competitions, and is a Fellow of the Academy in Rome. He is originally from Dallas, Texas and now resides outside of Philadelphia. He is the step-father of 2 boys on the autism spectrum and a father to a gifted daughter. He is a DADvocate who actively works at getting the child's perspective and correcting the social cognition and pragmatic language communication errors that occur. He has extensive expertise in "therapeutic game night" and "pun therapy". He has effectively advocated for his children and attended over 100 IEP and inter-agency meetings. He is on the advisory board of the National Special Education Advocacy Institute and volunteers his time and talents to the organization.
Marie Lewis, RN, PhD, BCEA
She is the Clinical Director, and on the faculty of the National Special Education Advocacy Institute. Marie has 3 children. She has been a neuro-ICU Nurse, hospital administrator and an adjunct college professor in criminal justice and psychology. She resides in the Greater Philadelphia area and has a private practice as a disability case manager and behavior specialist. She has been teaching education advocacy for 10 years at a national level and trained over 3000 advocates and parents and received both congressional and presidential acknowledgment for her work. She has served as a clinical consultant to special education law programs in multiple states, testified before the US Department of Education and in State and Federal Courts concerning issues related to special education. She has provided services to several special needs private and public schools and served on the advisory boards and boards of national and regional disability-related organizations and schools. She is a sought after speaker.
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