When a parent of a special needs child becomes increasingly frustrated, experiencing roadblocks in their efforts to intercede with their child’s school to access educational supports and services for their child, a consultation with a special education advocate should be considered.
An advocate is a person who speaks or writes in support, on behalf, or in defense of a person or cause. A reputable non-attorney special education advocate is typically very well-versed in the laws and regulations regarding Special Education under the guidelines of IDEA 2004 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was amended under the ADA in 2009. Advocates work hard to help parents determine what supports and services are needed for their child to benefit from their educa- tion. Their job is to identify and effectively explain at school IEP meetings how a child’s disability hinders his ability to benefit from his education without spe- cial education, and help secure appropriate supports and services, modifications, and accommodations that will alleviate those hindrances.
A knowledgeable advocate should attend (along with the parents/guardians) IEP Meetings, Section 504 Plan Meetings, Student Study Team (SST) Meetings, Manifestation Determination IEP Meetings, expulsion hearings, and informal dispute resolution meetings.
School-aged children that meet the criteria of one of the 13 categories of special education eligibility are entitled to a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE). Special education advocates inform parents of their child’s educational rights.
In cases where the parent and the school district disagree about what constitutes “a free and appropriate public education,” a good advocate can use her knowledge and skills to present an effective argument to the district, resulting in a solution that is in the child’s best interests. Most cases can be handled without legal proceedings.
There are times, however, when the parents and the district continue to disagree about the details of a “free and appropriate education” for a child. In such a case, a reputable advocate will refer you to a special education attorney to file for a legal proceeding called a Due Process Hearing.