The Initial Phone Call to Special Education Attorney
I receive phone calls from parents each year ranging from a multitude of special education topics and issues. The issues may range from discipline, related services, placement to bullying and harassment. In general, I try to listen to what are the essential concerns of the parent and provide feedback. For the initial phoned consultation, I do not see my role as solving the parent’s concerns about their child with a disability. Why? When I initially speak to a parent, I have not reviewed any educational records of the child. I have not yet reviewed edical, psychological, psychoeducational, psychiatric or other written information. My initial role is to investigate. I also ask probing questions so that I can get to the heart of the parent’s concerns.
A parent should contact a special education attorney in the event he or she is concerned with the education of their child. Sometimes the school system has not timely identified, located and evaluated a child suspected of having a disability. In such case, there may be a child find violation. Parents are often seeking answers to their specific special education questions. But a special education attorney should not be providing specific answers without sufficient information to provide an informed legal opinion.
Special education law and practice is very complicated. Parents should initially seek the guidance of a special education attorney for the purpose of developing a plan, strategy or goal. Parents should not initially contact a special education attorney for the purpose of securing specific legal advice about their child. I try to give general information and guidance to parents during the initial phone consultation. After the initial conversation, I ask for the child’s educational records. There usually are other documents that I need to review to form a legal opinion about the child’s special education program. I eschew answering specific questions about the child’s special education program. This is because I lack pertinent information to appropriately answer such questions or concerns.
Parents often want more than just cursory guidance during the first phone or email communication. Again, I do not think it is ethical and professional to try to answer specific legal questions related by the parent for the first communication. It will be necessary first to review all of the written documents that pertain to those questions. It also may be necessary to perform legal research, review educational research, or consult with an expert. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for a special education attorney to secure adequate information before forming a response to a parent’s concerns.
I will not be rushed or pressured by a parent to provide legal advice when I am not adequately prepared to do so. Sometimes parents expect that I will completely accept their version of the situation. I cannot do this without completing my own independent investigation of the case. I take my responsibility to provide competent legal advice and opinion very seriously. I will not tell parents what they want me to say or what they what to hear. But I will support a parent’s pursuit of their procedural and substantive rights under applicable laws when I believe there is merit to the case. I must have ample time to do this, however.
Suggestions for Parents
You should consult with a special education attorney when you believe there is a concern or problem with your child’s special education program. Alternatively, there are times when your child has not yet been identified and evaluated to determine his or her eligibility for special education. But please do not expect immediate legal answers to your questions or concerns. An attorney has to devote time to review the necessary documents to form a legal opinion on the subject. Would you call or physician with a serious medical problem and expect that physician to provide medical advice without ever seeing the patient. I hope not. I would not want a physician making a diagnosis over the telephone without seeing me first.
These are just a few recommendations for when you consult with a special education attorney for assistance. We can be very helpful in resolving your questions and concerns but please be patient.