I have been in the practice of representing families of children with disabilities for about 34 years. Over this time, I have been asked countless questions by parents, advocates, attorneys, and others who are seeking advise on special education topics and issues. The question I want to ask is what is the most important reason you contact a special education attorney in the first place? In other words, why happened now or recently that made you to contact an attorney for assistance? There may be a different reason for each parent, for instance, why you pick up your home or cell phone to contact an attorney for help concerning a special education problem or problems for your child. Although there may be different reasons, they generally boil down to one thing: the school system is not doing the right thing for my child’s special education needs. This may be failure to follow an IEP; failure to evaluate your child; an improper evaluation of your child, improper disciplinary action against your child; improper placement of my child in a restrictive environment; failure of my child to make educational progress, and the list goes on and on. As you can see, the common thread with all of these concerns is that the school system did something or failed to so something for your child with special needs that has created a problem or problems for him or her.
These type of problem or problems is what parents most often call me for. The initial first few minutes of the phone conversation usually start with a parent telling what happened today, yesterday, a week ago, a month ago, or longer that the school system is not helping their child in his or her special education program. Most of the time it is the school system is not following my child’s IEP. Parents – on some level – understand when their child is not receiving an appropriate education under their IEP. Sometimes parents have an understanding of some of the rules and laws that the school system may be breaking ; sometimes they do not. in both cases, however, these parents believe the school system is not following the rules, laws, IEPS, and other requirements to insure their child is receiving a free appropriate public education.
After listening to many of these parents explain what is wrong with their child’s IEP, special education programming, services or placement, I often tell parents that I cannot provide specific legal advise to answer their questions and concerns because I have not reviewed and read the child’s IEPs, special education eligibility report, psychoeducational evaluation, and other critical information from the school. It is like when you really feel sick and call a physician for help. It is very likely the physician you call cannot diagnose your medical problem over the phone. The physician has to see you in person and sometimes administer a number of tests to see why you may be feeling sick. Anyone that has been in the emergency room of a hospital or in the waiting room of health care clinic or doctor knows that you have to fill out a questionnaire first about your health condition and history before a physician will actually see you. Even then, the physician and particularly the nurses have to take your blood pressure, take your temperature, take blood in some cases, listen to your heartbeat and lungs, and do other things before they determine what kind of medical attention and care you need at this time.
The point I am trying to make is sometimes parents call me with their problems about the school system and expect that I can provide immediate answers to their questions. Most of the time I cannot do this. I have explained to many hundreds of parents that I need for them to send me a copy of their child’s IEPs, psychoeducational evaluation, private evaluation, medical reports, if any, special education eligibility report, behavior and disciplinary reports, if any, IEP progress reports and other information first. I cannot advise parents over the telephone or in an email whether the school system has not followed the IEP, or violated any of the many rights that parents have under the law unless and until I am able to review their child’s educational records. So do parents follow my advice and do this? Most do not. I receive a polite thank you and never hear from them again.
This is saddening in that I realize many parents have legitimate concerns and complaints about the school system’s failure to provide a free appropriate public education for their child. But I cannot help any of these parents without reviewing the child’s educational records. In many cases, I am willing to do this for free or at a nominal fee. Let me say this again, I am willing to review a child’s educational records for free or at reduced fee and then advise the parents what legal and other options they have to correct the problems they feel are harming their child’s education. But time and time again parents for some unknown reason will not follow up with me and send the necessary records for me to review. I understand parents sometimes are so convinced their child’s rights have been violated that they think I should answer their questions because it so obvious to them. But it is not obvious to me because I know absolutely nothing about your child unless I have an opportunity to review their school records.